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Caps rookies show promise in loss to Panthers

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Caps rookies show promise in loss to Panthers

With outdoor temperatures climbing into the 90s, the ice inside Germain Arena was not ideal for making tape-to-tape passes in Saturday’s rookie game between the Capitals and Florida Panthers.

But that wasn’t enough to dampen the enthusiasm of Hershey Bears coach Troy Mann following the Caps’ 2-1 shootout loss in Estero, Fla.

“It would have been nice to get a win because so many positive things happened in the game,” Mann told reporters after the first of three rookie scrimmages. (The Caps and Lightning will face off Sunday night at 7 p.m., followed by a Tuesday morning game against the Nashville Predators).

Eighteen-year-old defenseman Connor Hobbs, a fifth-round pick of the Caps in the 2015 draft, scored the lone goal for the Caps in the second period on a pass attempt that found its way through Florida goaltender Sam Brittain. Hobbs is expected to return to the Regina Pats this season for his first full year under former NHL coach John Paddock.

Four different Capitals hit the post in Saturday’s scrimmage – Riley Barber and Travis Boyd in the second period and Jakub Vrana and Chandler Stephenson in the third – and goaltender Vitek Vanecek was sharp the entire game, his only blemish coming on a Connor Brickley wrist shot with 13:51 gone in the third period.

“I thought Stephenson was very good,” Mann told reporters. “Vrana obviously has skill level. I thought there was a little too much one-on-one play where he felt he could beat everybody.”

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Mann was also impressed by the play of Boyd and free-agent forward Tim McGauley, whom he called “very good” at transitioning the puck.

On the back end, Mann said he liked the first defensive pairing of Jonas Siegenthaler, 18, and Madison Bowey, 20. Siegenthaler, a second-round pick by the Caps in June, is expected to return to Switzerland next week, while Bowey is tabbed for his first season in Hershey.  Mann also liked what he saw from defenseman Christian Djoos, 21, a seventh-round pick in 2012 also ticketed for Hershey.

 “Overall we were real happy with how the defense played in general,” Mann said. “But up front we could really use a little bit more of a push from some guys like the (Caleb) Herberts and those kind of guys that can give us a little bit more as the tournament progresses.”

These are the line combinations and defense pairing Mann used on Saturday:

Forward Lines

Jakub Vrana – Chandler Stephenson – Riley Barber

Caleb Herbert – Travis Boyd – Liam O’Brien

Nathan Walker – Miles Koules – Kevin Elgestal

Tim McGauley – Trevor Cox – Derek Deblois

Defense Pairings

Jonas Siegenthaler – Madison Bowey

Christian Djoos – Tyler Lewington

Keoni Texeira – Connor Hobbs

Free agent defensemen Alex Basso and Dan Gibb and free agent right wing Cole Wilson were healthy scratches on Saturday. Free agent goaltender Taran Kozun is expected to get the start on Sunday.

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The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

Alex Ovechkin had two goals, the puck on his stick and an empty-net yawning. The Caps held a 4-2 lead on Monday against the Vancouver Canucks late in the third period and the win looked all but secured. The only thing still up for grabs was the exclamation point empty-net goal.

Ovechkin took the puck in the defensive zone and weaved his way through the neutral zone. Once he hit center ice, there was only one player between him and the net. The hat trick looked all but certain…until he passed the puck away.

He easily could have taken the puck himself and fired it into the empty yet, but instead he chose to pass it off to T.J. Oshie on the wing.

Oshie delayed, but with the trailing Vancouver players skating into the passing lane, there was no way for Oshie to try to pass it back to Ovechkin and he very reluctantly shot the puck into the net.

When the players returned to the bench, the disappointment on Oshie’s face was clear to see. He wanted Ovechkin to get the hat trick, but Ovechkin wasn’t having it.

After the game, head coach Todd Reirden praised Ovechkin for his leadership.

“He could have easily got in the red and tried to score himself and it wasn’t even a thought,” Reirden said. “He passed right to Osh and Osh couldn’t go back to him and that’s the way it worked out. It doesn’t bother him one bit and I think that’s where you see a different player than maybe you saw three or four years ago that is not focused on individual stuff. He’s doing the right thing and he feels if you do the right thing for long enough, you’re going to get rewarded.

“We were benefactors of that last season with being able to win out at the end. He’s really got a lot of buy-in right now for doing the right thing. I think his leadership is really in the last probably year, year and a half has really gone to a new level.”
 
Reirden saw leadership on the play. Oshie saw disappointment.
 
Ovechkin offered his own explanation for giving up the shot as he said, “Save it for next time.”

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Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom can so often be overlooked thanks to his superstar teammates. But on a night in which Alex Ovechkin scored two goals and four points and John Carlson had a goal and three points, Backstrom was the man of the hour on Monday in Vancouver.

With his three assists on the night, Backstrom tallied assists No. 599, 600 and 601 of his career. He is just the 87th player in the history of the NHL to reach the 600-assist mark.

“It means that I’ve been playing in this league a long time I think now,” Backstrom told NBC Sports Washington’s Alan May after the game. “It's a nice milestone, of course, but we’re not going to stop here. We’re just going to keep going.”

Very fittingly, Backstrom’s 600th assist came on a power play goal to Ovechkin. Per NHL Stats, 235 of Backstrom’s 601 assists have been to Ovechkin. T.J. Oshie comes in at a very, very distant second as Backstrom has set up the veteran winger 49 times.

Ovechkin and Backstrom’s careers will be forever linked given the success they have had together in Washington. While that has caused many to overlook the soft-spoken Swede, it is foolish to continue to underrate him and his ability.

Backstrom is an absolute superstar who just so happens to play on the same team as one of the best players in the world and one of the biggest personalities in the sport.

But make no mistake, Backstrom is an elite talent in his own right.

Backstrom is now the first player from the 2006 draft class to reach 600 assists. The next closest is Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux with 471.

The level of success Backstrom has managed to find while in the league has been surprising even to him.

“I wasn’t really sure what I expected out of myself,” he said. “I was just trying to enjoy it. Luckily this organization believed in me and played me a lot after a couple games there and then it just took off. It’s been going fast, but I’ve had so much fun.”

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