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Caps show grit in comeback victory over Red Wings

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Caps show grit in comeback victory over Red Wings

There is something different about these Capitals. Something special, perhaps.

Head coach Barry Trotz senses it, and so do the players’ fathers who watched their sons pull out a hard-earned 3-2 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night at Verizon Center, improving their record to 7-0 this season following losses.

“When I first got here, I always thought there was a lot of panic,” Trotz said of his arrival in Washington 15 months ago. “(Now) in close games we’re OK with that. Guys have grown into that.

“… You talk about trying to learn killer instinct. I think we’ve learned that. It shows in our record down after two periods.”

The Caps are now 3-2-1 when trailing after two periods. They’re also 12-0-0 when leading after two periods and have outscored their opponents 79-55 in the third period this season.

“Our will to win is high,” said Capitals right wing Justin Williams, who scored his eighth goal of the season and 600th NHL point just 43 seconds into the game.

“You keep coming back in these games, even though it’s early December, they mean something. You can reflect on these. Later in the season you can say, ‘We’ve done this many times’ and actually mean it.  These are big comeback points.”

And they came because of a beastly third period from their 30-year-old captain.

Trailing 2-1 after 40 minutes despite outshooting the Red Wings 28-15, the Capitals kept on bringing it in the third period, led by Ovechkin, who entered the third period with no goals on 25 shots against the Red Wings this season.

Ovechkin drew a pair of penalties on back-to-back shifts, then crashed the net for a game-tying power-play goal with 9:09 remaining in regulation to send the crowd into a frenzy and the game into overtime.

But before the Caps could get to the extra period, defenseman John Carlson laid out to block a cannon shot by Tomas Tatar.

“It meant a lot to our group,” Trotz said. “The players recognize that and he got our little reward for that. They recognized that was a crucial block at a crucial time.”

Both teams had a chance to win the game with a power play in overtime, but the Caps’ sextet of penalty killers – Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Nate Schmidt and Brooks Laich – shut down the Red Wings on their 4-on-3 advantage despite a pair of near misses from Mike Green, and Jimmy Howard held his ground on a power-play blast by Alex Ovechkin.

That sent the game into a skills competition. T.J. Oshie beat Howard with a wicked snap shot and Evgeny Kuznetsov followed with a strong backhand-to-forehand move that left Howard out of position.

At the other end of the rink Braden Holtby was perfect on attempts by Gustav Nyqvist and Pavel Datsyuk to improve to 2-0 in shootouts this season.

“It’s great having Kuzy follow me,” Oshie said. “I don’t know who’s next, but we have a couple more guys that can get in there and make some nice moves.

“There’s definitely a sense of confidence that if I’m not able to get the job done we’re going to get at least one on the board with Kuzy going after me. That takes a little pressure off.”    

[RELATED: Green talks fond memories in first trip to Washington]

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Pheonix Copley to start in Winnipeg as Braden Holtby out with upper-body injury

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Pheonix Copley to start in Winnipeg as Braden Holtby out with upper-body injury

Braden Holtby will miss Wednesday’s game in Winnipeg due to an upper-body injury which will give Pheonix Copley his second start in as many nights. The team will also dress an emergency backup for the game. Isabelle Khurshudyan was the first to report the news.

In addition, Michal Kempny will miss Wednesday’s game as well due to an illness. He is considered day-to-day. Jonas Siegenthaler will get into the lineup for his second NHL game.

Pheonix Copley started Tuesday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. He turned aside 26 of the 28 shots he faced for a .929 save percentage in the win.

It is unclear when the injury to Holtby occurred. Copley was a surprise start in Tuesday’s game, but if the team suspected Holtby could miss Wednesday, recalls from Hershey could have been made prior to now which would have prevented the need for an emergency backup.

The backup for the Capitals will be Gavin McHale, the goaltending coach for the women’s team at the University of Manitoba. McHale, 31, is in his second season at UM and is listed by the website Elite Prospects as 6-feet 7-inches. The last time he played competitively was in 2014-15 with the Warren Mecs of the South Eastern Manitoba Hockey League. This is not the first time he has been called upon in the NHL as he was an emergency NHL backup in the past for the Colorado Avalanche in February.

Depending on the length of Holtby’s issue, a call-up for either Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek could be a possibility. Vanecek has been out with an upper-body injury meaning Samsonov would be the most likely candidate should the Caps need him.

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Why Tom Wilson’s return to the lineup could shake up the Caps roster

Why Tom Wilson’s return to the lineup could shake up the Caps roster

The return of Tom Wilson Tuesday gave Todd Reirden his full offensive lineup for the first time this season. It is not hard to figure out where he fits in the lineup. The real question is now what his return means for the rest of the roster.

Wilson found a home on the top line last season alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. He provides defensive balance to a very offensive duo; he is able to win puck battles along the boards because of his physical play, which generates more offense and he has the offensive skill and skating ability to keep up with his incredibly skilled linemates.

That was all evident on Tuesday, as Wilson scored a goal in his return in very typical Wilson fashion.

After trying in vain to find a suitable replacement for Wilson on the top line, Reirden immediately plugged him back into the top line. Instantly, a lineup that looked jumbled with players trying to find their spots suddenly looked complete again. The top nine that Washington rode to the Stanley Cup last season was restored.

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly

With Wilson back, Washington is at the maximum roster limit of 23 players and just slightly under the salary cap. But they also have two extra forwards on the roster. Most teams do not typically carry two extra forwards because it means sitting two assets in the press box every single night. You need one to plug in in case of emergency, but a second is most likely better served being traded or moved down to the AHL.

Assuming the top nine sticks, that leaves the team with Nic Dowd, Travis Boyd, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson and Dmitrij Jaskin.

If the Caps were interested in moving one of those players, a fourth line player won’t yield much in a trade. That makes placing a player on waivers as the best option.

The question is who?

There are compelling reasons to keep each of those five players. Dowd and Boyd are centers and a team can never have enough of those, Smith-Pelly was one of the team’s playoff heroes with seven goals in the postseason and Stephenson brings a lot of speed. The most likely choice would appear to be Jaskin who has only two points in 12 games since he was claimed off waivers by the St. Louis Blues. There is clear potential there and he has improved drastically since he was first acquired just prior to the start of the season. There is definitely more there than what we have seen from him.

But Jaskin also was not part of last season’s Stanley Cup roster.

The good news for Jaskin and all the team’s depth players is that there is no rush for the Caps to make any sort of roster move since they can technically carry the current roster as is and, per Cap Friendly, they can still fit everyone when Brooks Orpik returns from LTIR by sending Jonas Siegenthaler back down to Hershey.

But a decision is likely to come sooner rather than later to avoid having to sit two forwards in the press box every night. That makes these next few games critical for everyone on the fourth line to make an impression.

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