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Caps, Grubauer celebrate happy birthday with win over Sabres

Caps, Grubauer celebrate happy birthday with win over Sabres

The Capitals moved to 13-5-1 thanks to a 3-1 victory over the Sabres on Friday night. The victory was the team's fourth in five games. 

How it happened: The Capitals came out hot and peppered goalie Anders Nilssen early and often. The 6-5 goaltender denied Justin Williams off a beautiful pass from Nicklas Backstom, and turned away an excellent chance from Zach Sanford. But Daniel Winnik put back a second chance in front of the net at 5:08 of the first period to give the Capitals a lead. They would not relinquish it.

Marcus Johansson got on the board in the second — his first goal at Verizon Center this season — after a pass to the front of the net caromed off the skate of a Buffalo skater. Johansson buried his one-timer past Nilssen for the 2-0 lead. 

But the Capitals were unable to hold on to the shutout thanks to a Sam Reinhart goal at 9:58 of the third period. A late penalty by the Sabres for too many men on the ice lead to the Capitals' final tally, an easy finish for Brett Connolly in front of the net.

Out in front: The Capitals scored first and lead after the second period, the fourth time in the last five games they've entered the third period with the lead. It was also the seventh time this season and the fourth time in six games that the Capitals held their opponents scoreless in the first two periods. The Capitals entered are now 10-1-1 when leading after two periods. 

No Ovi, no problem: Two days after he registered his 16th career hat-trick, the Capitals' captain registered just three shots. Ovechkin had one legitimate scoring chance, but was held in-check throughout. But the contributions from elsewhere were more than enough to get the win.

At the Top: The Capitals' top line of Johannson, Backstrom and Williams drove the bus on offense. While the first line only registered one goal, Williams and Backstrom had a bevy of solid opportunities on net. They set the tone early and often. Williams still needs to get things going a bit, but the trio at the top set the pace for the rest of the team.

No shutout, but a happy birthday: After taking losses in his previous two starts, Philipp Grubauer recorded the win on his 25th birthday, stopping 31 of the Sabres' 32 shots. With his parents in the stands, Grubauer came up big on a Buffalo power play late in the third to keep the one-goal lead intact. 

What's Next? The Capitals have a quick turnaround and have to hit the road for a Saturday night game in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. After that, it's a long layoff before they return to the ice against the New York Islanders on Thursday, Dec. 1.

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Is Alex Ovechkin still the best winger in the NHL?

Is Alex Ovechkin still the best winger in the NHL?

When you win the Rocket Richard Trophy for the most goals, lead your team to a Stanley Cup and win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, you certainly belong in the discussion among the best in the game.

Even after Alex Ovechkin's incredible season, however, he falls just short of the top spot, according to NHL Network.

The NHL Network revealed the "Top 20 Wings Right Now" rankings as part of its countdown series on Sunday and Ovechkin came in second. Ahead of him was Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A compelling case could certainly be made for both players. Kucherov finished third in the NHL in points with a career-high 100 points (29 goals, 61 assists). Ovechkin, meanwhile, led the NHL in goals with 49 in his 87-point season.

The main argument for Kucherov is that he is 25 while Ovechkin will turn 33 in September and the ranking is for "right now." Ovechkin, however, is still basking in the glow of the Caps' Stanley Cup run which happened just a short two months ago. He also beat and outplayed Kucherov when the Caps met the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, outscoring him with seven points (four goals, three assists) compared to Kucherov's five (one goal, four assists).

Ovechkin's case is a compelling one as evidenced by the fact that he edged out Kucherov in the fan voting.

And then...there's analyst Mike Johnson who believes Ovechkin is neither No. 1 or No. 2. In fact, he barely cracks the top five.

Father Time is undefeated and there will come a point where Ovechkin begins to decline. But when the last competitive NHL hockey game was played, it featured an Ovechkin goal and him hoisting both the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup. Two months wasn't that long ago so perhaps we should not be expecting his production to fall off a cliff just yet.

The Great 8 has a way of making those quick to bury him look pretty foolish. Will he keep up that trend this season?


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2018-19 Metropolitan Division preview: Carolina Hurricanes


2018-19 Metropolitan Division preview: Carolina Hurricanes

The Capitals have won the Metropolitan Division three straight years. Can they defend their title? Here’s a preview of each team in the division for the 2018-19 season.

Today's team: Carolina Hurricanes

2017-18 Results: 36-35-11, 83 points, sixth in the division. Did not qualify for the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Micheal Ferland, F Andrei Svechnikov, D Dougie Hamilton, D Calvin de Haan, G Petr Mrazek, head coach Rod Brind’Amour

Notable departures: F Elias Lindholm, F Joakim Nordstrom, F Derek Ryan, F Jeff Skinner, F Lee Stempniak, D Noah Hanifin, G Cam Ward, head coach Bill Peters

When they will play the Caps: Dec. 14 in Raleigh, Dec. 27 in Washington, March 26 in Washington, March 28 in Raleigh

Offseason recap: The offseason was one of change for the Hurricanes as new owner Tom Dundon tried to make his mark. Peters and Ron Francis are out, Brind’Amour and Don Waddell are in as coach and general manager. Carolina’s new front office had a busy offseason with a number of splashy moves.

Hanifin, Lindholm and Skinner all will have new homes next season as the Hurricanes traded all three players in two big-time trades. Hanifin and Lindholm netted the team Hamilton, Ferland and a prospect while Skinner brought back a prospect, a second, a third and a sixth-round pick.

In addition, Carolina also added Svechnikov with the second-overall pick in the draft.

Biggest strength: Defense

Carolina was solid defensively last season, it just didn't seem that way because of how bad the goaltending was. Adding de Haan and Hamilton bolsters what was already a formidable blue line.

Biggest weakness: Goaltending

Did I mention how bad their goaltending was last season? Darling and Ward combined for a .909 save percentage, better only than the Buffalo Sabres. Ward put up better numbers (2.73 GAA, .906 save percentage) than Darling (3.18 GAA, .888 save percentage), but he has moved on to the Chicago Blackhawks. To replace him, the Hurricanes picked up Mrazek who also struggled last season (3.03 GAA, .902 save percentage).

So to recap, Ward and Darling both had subpar years, but to replace Ward the Hurricanes picked up a goalie who was worse.

It makes sense that Carolina would want to give Darling another shot at earning the starting job considering they traded for him to be their starter of the future, but just because the goaltending could not get much worse than last season is no guarantee it will be better.

2018-19 season outlook: The Hurricanes enter the season with a lot of question marks.

Can Brind'Amour handle the responsibilities of being a head coach in the NHL with zero head coaching experience at any level? Did they do enough to address their scoring woes? Will someone play like a starting-caliber goalie? Is Dundon breaking the mold of an NHL owner or will his meddling negatively impact the team? Will Hamilton adjust to his new team? Is Svetchnikov ready for a top-line role in his rookie season? Is Sebastian Aho a center?

If they can find positive answers to all of those questions, this is a team that could surprise. More likely, however, there are simply too many issues in Carolina right now for this team to make any real noise.

A new owner, new general manager, new head coach and a new-look roster are too much for one team to adjust to in one season.

2018-19 season prediction: The Hurricanes miss the playoffs and it's not close.