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Caps stars rise up to down Devils in New Jersey

Caps stars rise up to down Devils in New Jersey

Final score: Capitals 5, Devils 2

How it happened: Washington took an early lead on a breakaway goal from Alex Ovechkin, then extended it to 2-0 before the end of the period. New Jersey struck early in the second to make it look like they would make it a game, but Washington responded with two more goals to eventually chase goalie Keith Kinkaid from the crease. Washington would add an empty-netter late in the third.

What it means: Thursday’s win improves the Caps’ record within the Metropolitan division to 10-5-5. Washington heads into the All-Star break with the most points in the NHL (72) and a 13-1-1 record in their past 15 games.

Goals

Capitals goal: Alex Ovechkin unassisted at 6:14 in the 1st. Ovechkin generated a turnover at the blue line with some strong work on the forecheck and he was in all alone. He finished the play with a backhanded to beat Kinkaid. Caps 1, Devils 0

Capitals goal (power play): Andre Burakovsky unassisted at 18:28 in the 1st. Devils defenseman Jon Merrill made an ill-advised pass to Adam Henrique right in front of the net and Henrique could not corral the pass allowing Burakovsky to pounce and bury it. Caps 2, Devils 0

Devils goal: Stefan Noesen from Jacob Josefson and Pavel Zacha.  Josefson and Zacha teamed up to pressure Burakovsky on the boards forcing a turnover. Zacha then found Noesen in the slot for the goal. Caps 2, Devils 1

Capitals goal: Lars Eller from Dmitry Orlov and Andre Burakovsky. Lars Eller was setting a screen, but found a shot from Dmitry Orlov on his stick and fired it into the back of the net. Caps 3, Devils 1

Capitals goal (power play): Evgeny Kuznetsov from Dmitry Orlov and Alex Ovechkin. Burakovsky found a streaking Kuznetsov with a perfect pass and he turned on the jets to leave defenseman Steven Santini in the dust. He then gracefully slid the puck through the five-hole of Kinkaid for the goal. Caps 4, Devils 1

Devils goal (power play): Adam Henrique from Michael Cammalleri and P.A. Parenteau. Henrique deflected a shot from Cammalleri past Braden Holtby. Caps 4, Devils 2

Capitals goal (empty net): Evgeny Kuznetsov unassisted. Caps 5, Devils 2

Three stars

1. Evgeny Kuznetsov: Kuznetsov scored two goals on the night and showed a lot of skill and speed throughout the game. He was skating and playing with confidence and you could tell. You almost feel sorry for defenseman Steven Santini who was left eating Kuznetsov's dust. Almost.

2. Braden Holtby: The Caps scored five goals and Holtby allowed two, but this would have been a very different game if Holtby was not on point early. He allowed Washington to take control on the scoreboard even when the Devils were tilting the ice in their favor.

3. Taylor Hall: Hall missed the first two games between these teams and he made his presence known Thursday. The Caps defense had no answer for his speed in the first two periods as Hall generated quality opportunity after quality opportunity. Holtby, however, made sure Hall was kept off the board.

Look ahead: Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby now head to Los Angeles for the All-Star festivities this weekend. The rest of the team will be off until Monday when they reconvene at Kettler for an afternoon practice before hitting the road for a game in Brooklyn against the Islanders on Tuesday.

Tell us what you think: Things got physical in the third period as Brooks Orpik laid out Hall with what looked like a clean hit. The Devils took exception, however, which led to a brawl on the ice. When the dust settled, Tom Wilson and Kyle Palmieri were assessed misconducts for fighting. All this for a clean hit. Do you think physical play is being taken out of the game by both the players and the refs?

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The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.

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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”

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