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Caps' Sanford snipes another, makes strong case to stay in the lineup

Caps' Sanford snipes another, makes strong case to stay in the lineup

Zach Sanford is playing like a guy who doesn’t want to come out of the lineup.

Or head back to Hershey, for that matter.

One game after scoring his first NHL goal, the Capitals rookie got another in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss in Detroit. At times, in fact, Sanford was Washington’s most effective forward as he racked up a career-high three shots on goal.

And like his milestone tally a week ago—the game-winner in a wild 6-4 victory over the Ducks—Sanford’s goal against the Red Wings was also a big one.

The Caps, fresh off their five-day bye, had been scuffling for much of the game when Sanford struck late in the second period to trim Washington’s deficit to 2-1.

The play began with Lars Eller gathering a loose puck in neutral ice and then flicking a backhanded saucer pass right onto Sanford’s stick blade. Sanford took it from there, ripping a shot through Thomas Vanek and past Petr Mrazek’s blocker.

“It was a turnover by them that Lars was able to pick it up,” Sanford said of the goal. “It actually happened the same way as my first goal last weekend. Nice pass by Lars. I was just trying to get off quick and it found its way through.”

Sanford’s first pro season has, on occasion, been a trying one for the Boston College product. He started the season in Washington, but managed just a single assist in his first 19 games before being sent to the minors to get more playing time and, just as important, regain his confidence. He was recalled for one game in mid-December, but again he went without a point and skated fewer than 10 minutes.

The 22-year-old’s latest stint in Washington, however, has gone much differently.

Against Anaheim, Sanford wasn’t having his best game through the first two periods. But then it happened: Brett Connolly fed him the puck in the waning moments of a tied game…and he snapped it into the net for his first NHL goal.

For Sanford, it was both a relief as well as confirmation that he can produce at this level.

After that game—the Caps’ last before the bye—Sanford was sent back to Hershey. He took the demotion in stride, traveled to Bridgeport, Conn., and less than 24 hours later was the Bears’ best player, registering two goals and four shots on net.

When the Caps returned to action on Friday, he and fellow prospect Jakub Vrana were both recalled for the trip to Detroit and New York. Coach Barry Trotz decided that Sanford had earned the right to suit up against the Red Wings, but the coach also indicated that he would chose between Sanford and Vrana on a day-to-day basis.

Trotz said he doesn’t consider the two to be in competition as the team seeks a long term replacement for Andre Burakovsky, who is out until mid to late March with a broken hand. But judging by Sanford’s hustle in Detroit, he certainly sees it that way.

Assuming Sanford is back in the lineup Sunday at Madison Square Garden, he said he expects the Caps to put forth a crisper, more consistent effort against the Rangers after slogging through a slow start Saturday at The Joe.

“Four or five days off is definitely tough to come back from in the middle of the season with just one practice,” he said. “But getting a game under our belt today was good for us. I think we’ll be back to our normal legs tomorrow.”

Related: Caps rusty coming off bye week, fall to last-place Red Wings

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Ovechkin-less Caps win in Montreal in return from the All-Star break

Ovechkin-less Caps win in Montreal in return from the All-Star break

With Alex Ovechkin serving a one-game suspension, the Capitals still were able to pull out a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday in the team's return from the all-star break.

The power play contributed a goal despite the loss of Ovechkin and Braden Holby played well late in the game to preserve the win.

Here is how Washington won.

The power play

Coming into Monday's game, the Caps had the 30th ranked power play since Dec. 1 striking at only 14.1-percent. With no Ovechkin, it seemed unlikely that the power play would be able to suddenly find success against Montreal. Yet, the power play looked much improved with crisp puck movement that kept the Canadiens guessing. The puck movement was much quicker and more deliberate than the power play had shown of late which has looked far too slow and indecisive.
Washington cashed in with a goal from Tom Wilson as Jakub Vrana fed him from behind the net and he beat the defense to the slot.

Petry’s second goal

Jeff Petry opened the scoring with a goal for Montreal in the first period. Wilson tied the game at 1, but Petry scored again early in the second period...for the Caps.

Brendan Leipsic tipped the puck behind the net and Lars Eller grabbed it and tried to stuff it. He couldn't. Travis Boyd then tipped the puck in front of the net where Petry was trying to cover the back door to help out netminder Cary Price. Instead of helping, however, he ended up kicking the puck into his own net giving him one goal for each team and giving the Caps the 2-1 lead.

Kuznetsov on his butt

All-star defenseman Shea Weber had the puck in Montreal's defensive zone and was pressured by Evgeny Kuznetsov. In terms of a forecheck matchup, you would have to give the edge to Weber in that situation and nine times out of 10, you'd be right. This time, however, Weber lost the puck behind him with Kuznetsov pressuring. Weber turned and knocked over Kuznetsov to try to get to the puck. On his butt, Kuznetsov still managed to get a stick to the puck, passed it to T.J. Oshie who dropped it off to Jakub Vrana. Vrana netted it for his 23rd goal of the season, but the play was all started by the great forecheck by Kuznetsov.

Holtby's third period

When Holtby is feeling it, he is hard to beat. Protecting the Caps' lead, Holtby was strong in the final frame with 14 saves on 15 shots. The save of the night came when Joel Armia tried to tip a puck past Holtby and succeeded. The puck hit the post and Armia raised his arms to celebrate. Holtby, however, plucked the puck out of the air with the glove before it could cross the line which was confirmed by review.

Holtby had plenty of struggles heading into the all-star break, but was strong in the team's return with 31 saves.

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A response game for Holtby, a butt pass and some power for the power play

A response game for Holtby, a butt pass and some power for the power play

The Capitals made sure the one-game suspension to Alex Ovechkin did not cost them with a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Better power play

Even without Alex Ovechkin, the power play looked much improved. The most noticeable improvement was the puck movement.

One of the issues on the power play has been slow and indecisive puck movement. The Caps were much quicker with their passes on Monday and kept the puck constantly moving which kept Montreal guessing.

Washington's power play has focused largely on position over movement which is fine and was productive for several years years. Lately, however, if the passes the players want aren't open, they freeze up with the puck, hold onto it too long, then try to force passes through covered passing lanes. On Monday, each time a player took a pass, the puck was off their stick shortly after. They already knew where the puck was going when they got the puck and quickly moved it not allowing the penalty kill to get set.

The key now will be continuing that puck movement when Ovechkin returns.

A good night for Holtby

If you're going to get all over Braden Holtby for every bad game, you have to give him credit when he has a good one. Holtby allowed only two goals on Monday. The first was a 3-on-2 with Dmitry Orlov and T.J. Oshie playing defense and Orlov misplayed it allowing Jeff Petry wide open in front of the net. The second came as Dale Weiss was also left alone in front of the net. Holtby played it awkwardly coming out to challenge Weiss, but did not extend the pads to try to force Weiss wide and gave him too much room. Still, the defense left him out to dry in both situations.

Otherwise, it was a very strong game.

Holtby made 14 saves in the third period alone and 31 saves overall for a .939 save percentage on the night. It is the first time in eight games he has managed a save percentage over .900.

Turning point

Montreal took a 1-0 lead off a Jeff Petry goal and the Canadiens were all over the Caps to start. Then Washington earned a power play opportunity and, well, it was awful with Ovechkin, surely it would be terrible without him. Instead, Wilson scored to tie the game and the power play looked much improved. Suddenly, the Caps were back in the game.

Play of the game

This is great forecheck work by Evgeny Kuznetsov on one of the best defensemen in the game, Shea Weber. He forced a turnover then made the pass from his butt to set up the goal.

Stat of the game

Lars Eller loves playing against Montreal. He recorded one assist and was one of the Caps' best players on Monday.

Quote of the game

Holtby has had struggles in the past, but he always seems to rebound at some point and return to his dominant self. Todd Reirden called Monday's game a "response" performance for the netminder after his best performance in several weeks.


Fan predictions

Close. The Caps rebounded from a 1-0 deficit and ended up winning 4-2.

Saw a lot of predictions for two goals for Richard Panik who played in Ovechkin's spot on the top line. Panik had two shots on goal, but no points in 12:35 of even-strength ice time.

No goals for John Carlson, but Holtby did have a strong game and the Caps had a two-goal win.

Bold.

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