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Caps need boost from power play

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Caps need boost from power play

When all is said and done, what will be the difference in the second-round tug-of-war between the Capitals and Rangers?

Special teams, Brooks Laich said matter-of-factly. It always comes down to that.

Through the first three games of the series the Capitals are 1-for-10 on the power play. The Rangers have gone 2-for-11.

The Caps have been going with a top unit of Alex Ovechkin and Dennis Wideman at the points and Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johanssson and Troy Brouwer up front. Wideman said the key is getting pucks through the Rangers shot-blocking forwards Ryan Callahan, Ruslan Fedotenko, Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust and Derek Stepan.

Theyre the best shot-blocking team in the league, Wideman said. Their forwards do a great job of getting in that shooting lane and timing it well. You might think you have a lane and all of a sudden they slide in front at the perfect time. Weve got to get around that by faking shots, get them down and move it to the open guy.

Mike Green, whos been quarterbacking a second unit with John Carlson, Brooks Laich, Alexander Semin and Keith Aucoin, says the best way to find those lanes is by moving quickly in the offensive zone.

We stand still a little too much, he said. If we can walk across the blue line and get these guys moving there will be some lanes to shoot.

Wideman said hes not entirely disappointed in the puck movement of the Capitals power play, just its lack of production.

I thought we moved it around well last game, but there were times when the puck just bounced the wrong way, Wideman said. I had a shot fall right onto Ovis stick and he didnt see it and Dan Girardi just got his stick in there to poke it away.

Capitals coach Dale Hunter does not appear ready to make any changes to either of the two units, saying hard work is the answer to most power play shortcomings.

You always want to score, he said. We had some good chances on it. We need to get more pucks and more traffic to the net. Their penalty killers are working hard, so youve got to match their work ethic. Weve got to outwork them on the power plays to get scoring chances.

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All signs point to T.J. Oshie returning to Capitals lineup vs. Red Wings, not official yet

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All signs point to T.J. Oshie returning to Capitals lineup vs. Red Wings, not official yet

ARLINGTON, Va. -- As the Washington Capitals took to the ice Monday at MedStar Capitals Iceplex for the first time since returning from a three-game road trip, T.J. Oshie joined them, but he did so wearing a red jersey. The color Oshie was wearing is significant not because of his fashion but because of what it means for his status.

A light blue jersey indicates a player is a non-contact participant in practice. The fact that Oshie was in his regular red means that he was full-go on Monday, and it is a good sign that he could be able to return for Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Oshie has missed 11 games after suffering a concussion after a takedown by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey on Nov. 14. It was the fifth concussion of Oshie’s career.

“I feel like each time it gets more and more frustrating,” Oshie said to reporters after practice. “But I stuck with it. Some good workouts and skates with [strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish] and [Brooks Orpik] was here all week, so I had some company. I had a lot of support from the guys behind me asking me, texting me seeing how I'm doing, so those kind of things kind of get you through it. Plus, the holidays, family in town, I spent time with the girls at home and [my] wife. It was a good little break.”

When an injury keeps a player from skating, their typical progression starts goes from off-ice workouts, to on-ice workouts, to being a limited participant in practice, to a full participant and then to returning to the game lineup. Oshie had been skating with Nemish during the team’s road trip and has evidently progressed to the point that he was able to step right into practice on Monday without the need for the non-contact jersey.

Not only was Oshie a full-participant, but head coach Todd Reirden was seemingly not concerned about easing him back in. Oshie skated on the top line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. He also took part in drills on the team’s first power-play unit.

“He's a special player in all aspects of the game, but certainly in the power play for us in that diamond spot,” Reirden said. “He does a really good job on the entries in terms of controlled entries. When we do have to dump pucks in, he's great on recoveries. His work ethic and instincts to be able to win puck battles, I just think it increases our whole intensity of the way our power play recovers pucks.”

Everything that happened on the ice Monday was a positive sign for Oshie’s recovery, but both he and Reirden said only that he was a “possibility” to play in Tuesday’s game.

“I've been hoping to play for a week,” Oshie said. “I'm hoping to play [Tuesday]. We'll see, see what the training staff says, see what the doctors say, see what the coaches say.”

Reirden added: “The plan was for him to go through practice today, and we'll see how he does later this afternoon and re-evaluate [Tuesday] morning as he continues to get closer to getting cleared to play."

Based on how Oshie progressed directly to full practice and by how much he was utilized during practice, every indication is that Oshie will be back in the lineup Tuesday at Capital One Arena.

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NHL Power Rankings: Capitals remain the class of the division

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NHL Power Rankings: Capitals remain the class of the division

Saturday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets was built up as a battle for first place. It didn’t take long for Washington show that they remain the class of the division as the Caps walked away with an emphatic 4-0 win.

The  Metropolitan Division is just plain bad this year. New Jersey and Philadelphia are surprisingly atrocious, Carolina is still a player or two (and a goalie) away from being a playoff team, the Rangers will go only as far as Henrik Lundqvist can carry them, the Islanders have made great strides under Barry Trotz but are nowhere close to contending and this looks like Pittsburgh’s weakest team since the Mike Johnston era.

At this point, the only two teams that look like clear playoff teams are Washington and Columbus and even that may be a stretch depending on how the Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky situation pans out for the Blue Jackets.

There’s still a lot of hockey left to play this season, but the Caps made an early statement on Saturday that they remain the team to beat in the Metro and no one looks anywhere close to challenging them at this point.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few observations from the past week:
•    Tom Wilson provided one heck of a spark when he returned from suspension. The way the Caps responded to his injury with two wins on the road is impressive and says a lot about this team’s mental makeup and resiliency, even more so than how they rallied after Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie both came out of the lineup.
•    Is Kuznetsov all the way back? He just does not seem like the same player who dazzled us in the first month of the season. Yes, he has a five-game point streak, but he is not dominating the game the same way. Earlier in the season, his talent was evident every time he stepped onto the ice. Whenever Connor McDavid is on the ice, you notice him. Whenever Nathan MacKinnon is on the ice, you notice him. That was true of Kuznetsov early on, but has not been true since he returned to the lineup.
•    Oshie is skating which means he is making progress, but the team should take a slow approach to his return. After he suffered a concussion last year from a hit by Joe Thornton, he did not play well when he returned for quite a while. The Caps are winning and are in first place, there’s no reason to really rush him back.
•    The power play is starting to become a major concern. The loss of Oshie certainly hurts, but that unit was starting to struggle even before the game in Winnipeg in which he was injured. When watching the Columbus game on Friday, someone asked Alan May what he thought the problem was and he said zone entries. There’s definitely something to that. The power play still looks as deadly as ever when the team sets it up, but it seems like they are having a real tough time just getting to that point. They just cannot get the puck into the offensive zone and keep possession.

Even with Wilson, Oshie and Orpik out, the Caps keep finding ways to win and that his them climbing up the rankings.

FIND OUT WHERE THEY LAND IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS.

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