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Caps' MacLellan says this is the best team of the Ovechkin Era

Caps' MacLellan says this is the best team of the Ovechkin Era

Is this the best Capitals team of the Alex Ovechkin Era?

The guy who played a key role in constructing the roster believes it is.

“I think so, yeah,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said this week. “You can make an argument. To me, it is the most complete team.”

“We’ve added guys every year that have worked out,” he said. “We’ve added two defensemen [Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen], it worked out. We added two wingers [T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams], it worked out. We added a third line this year. Things have kind of evolved to a good [place] where I think we should be playing at our highest level we’ve ever played at.”

If anyone is qualified to make that statement it’s MacLellan, who has filled many roles during his 15 years with the organization. He witnessed the 2009-10 that obliterated the league to the tune of 121 standings points. He presided over last year’s team, which also finished atop the NHL standings.

But this year’s edition, in MacLellan’s estimation, feels a little different…in a positive way.

“It’s good,” he said. “The goaltending is deep. Defense is pretty good. Four good lines, scoring lines. Good [penalty kill], good power play.”

Indeed, the Caps have been the league’s most dominant team since the calendar flipped to 2017. And it hasn’t really been all that close.

They have scored more 5-on-5 goals than anyone else this season. Meanwhile, they’re allowing the fewest goals per game (2.07). Braden Holtby is making an argument for a second straight Vezina Trophy, Nicklas Backstrom is tied for fourth in points, the special teams units are clicking and they've been dominant on home ice. Meanwhile, Coach Barry Trotz has managed his top players’ minutes in an effort to ensure they are healthy and fresh for the postseason.

So, yeah, the Caps are in good shape as the stretch run begins. They sit atop the league, three points clear of the Wild in the overall standings and five points ahead of the Penguins in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.

In fact, things have gone so well that MacLellan isn’t sure if he’ll add anything at the March 1 trade deadline.

“This year I don’t feel that pressure or that need to do anything,” MacLellan said. “We’re exploring opportunities. If something makes sense we’re going to pursue it. [But] we’re not going to mess with lines or defensive pairs. If we can upgrade on the fringes we might do it.”

Another reason MacLellan is so confident this year's group will do something no previous Capitals’ team has managed: He senses the players understand and embrace the importance of maximizing their opportunity this spring, an "urgency" that's underscored by the uncertain contract status of several key veterans.

“We’ve tried to create a sense of urgency here, even starting last year that this is it—you’ve got two years to figure it out [with] this group,” MacLellan said. “That’s not to say that going forward we’re not going to be good, but something’s got give because of the roster we have. Something’s got to fall out, and I’m not sure what it’s going to be. But it’s not going to be the same.”

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Want to witness history? Why Saturday's game is a good bet for Alex Ovechkin to score 700

Want to witness history? Why Saturday's game is a good bet for Alex Ovechkin to score 700

Alex Ovechkin is capable of scoring any time against any team, but if you're trying to pinpoint when history could happen and see goal No. 700, there are plenty of reasons to be watching Saturday's marquee matchup against the New Jersey Devils (1 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

In three games this season, Ovechkin has scored four times against New Jersey. On Jan. 16, he was bloodied by a high stick from Miles Wood and left for the locker room returning before the first period was up and scored twice. He did not just get mad, he got even and completed the hat trick in the third period.

Head coach Alain Nasreddine did not reveal who his starter would be in net on Friday, but it will be either MacKenzie Blackwood or Cory Schneider. Keep your fingers crossed for Schneider.

Schneider has not played an NHL game since Jan. 18 and was recalled from the AHL on Thursday most likely because Louis Domingue is headed out of town in a trade and the team wanted to protect the asset. Schneider has a 4.65 GAA and .852 save percentage in nine games. Ovechkin has also had plenty of success against him in the past, scoring eight times against the Devils netminder. He has only managed one goal on Blackwood, but it came this season on Dec. 12, 2019.

Ovechkin has a history of success against the Devils. In 56 games against New Jersey, Ovechkin scored in 22 of them. He has 29 total goals including two of his 28 career hat tricks against the Devils.

New Jersey ranks 30th in the NHL in goals against and, although they have improved in that area since Jan. 1, they still rank 21st in that time keeping the puck out of the net.

Add in the fact that the trade deadline firesale has already begun with the Devils shipping out Blake Coleman and captain Andy Greene in the past week, as well as Taylor Hall back in December, and this may be a team not ready to stop Ovechkin's march to history.

With Ovechkin on the verge of 700, there's no doubt that Saturday's marquee matchup (1 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) is one you won't want to miss.

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Alex Ovechkin's son, Sergei, makes an appearance during Capitals practice

Alex Ovechkin's son, Sergei, makes an appearance during Capitals practice

The Capitals had a special guest during their morning skate on Friday.

Alex Ovechkin's son, Sergei, got to pay his father a visit at the Medstar Capitals Iceplex.

Ovechkin carried his one-year-old around the ice and even put him down on the ice to practice his skills. Sergei had a mini stick of his own, almost like he was ready to play if needed.

No word yet on whether Sergei plans on declaring for the upcoming NHL draft, but the kid has already got some skills--and not to mention pretty good genes.

If you were having a bad day, this moment between Ovechkin and his son will certainly cheer you up!

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