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Caps suffer second overtime loss as Leafs take advantage of late penalty

Caps suffer second overtime loss as Leafs take advantage of late penalty

Final score: Washington Capitals 3, Toronto Maple Leafs 4

How it happened: The Caps’ top line showed up ready to play on Monday helping Washington jump out to an early 2-0 lead. Nicklas Backstrom finished off a rush with Nate Schmidt and later fed Alex Ovechkin for a one-time goal that left Air Canada Centre silent. Toronto would respond later in the period, however, as Auston Matthews would take advantage of an odd deflection to score the first playoff goal of his career. Evgeny Kuznetsov netted a rebound goal to extend the lead to 3-1, but the Leafs came roaring back with a deflection goal from Connor Brown. William Nylander tied the game before the end of the second period as he was left all alone in front of the net and was able to collect the rebound off his initial shot for the goal. Both held of the scoreboard in the third leading to yet another overtime game. Lars Eller took a high-sticking penalty with just 15 seconds left in regulation giving the Leafs a power play to start overtime. They would cash in as Tyler Bozak scored the game-winner just 1:37 into overtime.

What it means: Toronto is giving the Caps everything they can handle and now shockingly hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to take a 3-1 stranglehold at home on Wednesday. Washington’s back is against the wall now as the winner of Game 3 after a 1-1 split goes on to win the series 67.6-percent of the time.

Goals

Caps goal: Nicklas Backstrom from Nate Schmidt and T.J. Oshie at 2:43 in the 1st period. Toronto dumped the puck behind the Caps’ net, but John Carlson cut off Auston Matthews with the body allowing Oshie to get the puck. He passed it up to Oshie whow fed it up to Backstrom and the break was on. Backstrom fed Schmidt back who joined the rush and Schmidt returned the favor with a backhand pass to Backstrom in the slot for the goal. Caps 1, Maple Leafs 0

Caps goal: Alex Ovechkin from Nicklas Backstrom and T.j. Oshie at 4:49 in the 1st period. The Caps’ forecheck pressured the Leafs behind their own net forcing the turnover. Oshie took the puck and fed Backstrom with the backhand who set up Ovechkin for the one-timer. Caps 2, Maple Leafs 0

Maple Leafs goal: Auston Matthews from Morgan Rielly at 14:08 in the 1st period. Two big hits from Nazem Kadri seemed to ignite the Leafs as they made a push on net. Matthews skated the puck into the offensive zone and fired a shot that deflected off of Carlson’s stick and off of Schmidt’s face. Everyone seemed to lose sight of the puck as a result of the odd deflection except for Matthews who collected it off his chest and crashed the net for the goal.  Caps 2, Maple Leafs 1

Caps goal: Evgeny Kuznetsov from Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson at 5:39 in the 2nd period. Kuznestov entered the offensive zone and handed the puck off to Johansson. Johansson let a shot go that was easily kicked aside by Frederik Andersen, but it went right to Kuznetsov who netted the sharp angle shot. Caps 3, Maple Leafs 1

Maple Leafs goal: Connor Brown from Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov at 15:13 in the 2nd period. The Leafs weren’t masking what their strategy was. They kepty corralling the puck down low and kicking it to the point for the shot. After Caps 3, Maple Leafs 2

Maple Leafs goal: William Nylander from Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman at 19:20 in the 2nd period. Hyman dumped the puck behind the Caps net and four Caps players chased after it. That left Nylander all alone in front of the net for a behind the back pass from Matthews. Braden Holtby made the initial save, but Nylander collected the rebound and fired it past the now helpless netminder. Caps 3, Maple Leafs 3

Maple Leafs goal: Tyler Bozak (power play) from Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly at 1:37 in overtime. Caps 3, Maple Leafs 4

3 Caps stars

1. Nicklas Backstrom: When it looked like the Caps were going to blow the Leafs out of the water, Backstrom scored the first goal of the game then added an assist to set up Ovechkin on the one-timer.

2. Nate Schmidt: Every time he gets into the lineup, he makes an impact. Less than three minutes into the game, he feeds Backstrom for the opening goal, registering an assist on the play.

3. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin scored the one-time goal early helping lead his line to a great start.

Look ahead: The series stays in Toronto for Game 4 on Wednesday then returns to Washington for Game 5 on Friday. Should the Caps win either of those games, it will force at least a Game 6 in Toronto on Sunday.

Watch the game? Tell us what you thought!

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Capitals add to their scoring depth in trade for Ilya Kovalchuk

Capitals add to their scoring depth in trade for Ilya Kovalchuk

With the NHL trade deadline at 3 p.m., Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is not waiting until the last minute to get his business done. Washington acquired forward Ilya Kovalchuk from the Montreal Canadiens for their 2020 third-round draft pick. The move was first announced via Twitter.

As part of the deal, Montreal will retain 50-percent of Kovalchuk’s salary meaning he will bring a cap hit of only $350,000 to Washington.

Kovalchuk, who will turn 37 in April, has scored nine goals and 13 assists this season in 39 games. Thirteen of those points, however, have come in 22 games with the Canadiens. He began the season with the Los Angeles Kings, who he signed a three-year contract with in 2018. His contract was bought out by Los Angeles in December making him a free agent which is how he ended up in Montreal.

So which Kovalchuk will the Caps be getting?

Los Angeles brought in Kovalchuk expecting him to be a key piece on an offense management felt was close to competing. He never seemed to fit in with the Kings, however, and as the team plummeted in the standings, Kovalchuk very much became an odd-man-out. There won’t be as much pressure on Kovalchuk in Washington which has an established top-six, but he also will not see as big a role with the Caps as he had with the Canadiens.

Kovalchuk was playing 18:54 per game for Montreal, up from 15:25 in Los Angeles. Kovalchuk likely will get far less playing time in Washington and will likely slide into a third-line role as the team has not had as much offensive production from that line as hoped this year. That would have the added benefit of pushing Carl Hagelin or Richard Panik to a fourth line whose offensive production has completely dried up. Brendan Leipsic, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway have combined for three points since the calendar changed to 2020.

Kovalchuk’s upside is such that the team could potentially plug him into the top six at times when the offense needs a shakeup. In recent weeks when the offense had gone stale, options were limited for what head coach Todd Reirden could do because the top six is pretty much established. There is no Brett Connolly or Andre Burakovsky to carry the third line’s production or who Reirden could plug in to shake up the offense. Now a Capitals offense that already ranks third in the NHL in goals per game has more offensive depth.

“Ilya is a talented offensive player who we feel will provide us with additional depth and flexibility up front,” said MacLellan via the team’s press release. “He is a skilled forward who can make plays and contribute to our offensive game.”

In last year’s playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington got only five goals from its bottom six in seven games. The offense was even more top-heavy this season so the addition of Kovalchuk could prove vital both in the team’s hope to stay atop the Metropolitan Division in the regular season and also in the playoffs.

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Dillon fits right in, Carlson hits a milestone and is it problem solved for Brian MacLellan?

Dillon fits right in, Carlson hits a milestone and is it problem solved for Brian MacLellan?

Boy did they need that. The Capitals snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday with a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins to reclaim first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

He's kind of a big Dill

This was Brenden Dillon's best game thus far with the Capitals and it's not just because of his fight with Evgeni Malkin, though that helped. He played less than 14 minutes in Saturday's game against New Jersey and did not play at all on the penalty kill. On Sunday, he played 20:38 and 3:34 on the penalty kill. He was very physical, played the body well. There was one goal where he was caught too high, but that was because he joined the offensive rush which defensemen are allowed to do in the team's system. That goal wasn't on him, the team was just caught on the counter-attack with him in the offensive zone.

"I thought he had a really strong game," coach Todd Reirden said. "We've been kind of easing him into it, his minutes weren't as high as we would've liked yesterday and then today I thought it was really noticeable, his play. Just settles things down and obviously penalty kill, using him more in that situation today. You could see his experience and then, when he has a chance to play against the other team's top players, he's not going to be fun to play against."

Dillon is a very good defensive player with a lot of snarl to his game. This was the best reflection of what the Caps really got when they acquired him.

Kempny-Gudas wasn't a disaster

Michal Kempny and Radko Gudas were paired together in Thursday's game against the Montreal Canadiens and there is no way to sugarcoat it: They were awful together. Surprisingly, the pair was reunited for this game and it actually wasn't the disaster I anticipated it to be. At 5-on-5 play, Kempny and Gudas had a 54.55 Corsi-For percentage. Well, they must have played sheltered minutes, right? They actually didn't. They had zero on-the-fly offensive zone starts and only 16.67-percent offensive zone faceoff starts. They were being played primarily in defensive situations.

Perhaps, in a way, that actually was sheltered for them considering they have been responsible for several of the breakaway chances the team has given up the past few games. Maybe the best way to shelter Kempny-Gudas is to keep them out of a position in which the offense can get behind them.

Wearing down the Penguins?

The Caps have outscored Pittsburgh 6-2 in the third period this season. Clearly Washington is trying to wear down the Penguins physically and that seems to be working in the third, though Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan isn't buying it.

When asked if he was concerned that the Caps were physically wearing down his team, Sullivan responded bluntly, "No."

Problem solved?

Had Washington gotten crushed this game, I don't see how Brian MacLellan could have justified standing pat on Monday. Clearly a change would have been needed. It's just one game, but did Sunday's win change MacLellan's approach to the trade deadline?

Let's consider what we saw. The Caps had almost zero offensive net-front presence on Saturday. Tom Wilson got a power play goal from providing maybe the only screen of the entire day. That was very different on Sunday where the goals by Carl Hagelin and T.J. Oshie came on plays the team seemed incapable of making on Saturday.

Defensively, while the team may have given up three goals, this was actually one of the better defensive performances we have seen from the Caps in quite some time. We did not see the type of egregious mistakes and turnovers that have been killing them of late.

So of the issues the team has been dealing with of late, Sunday's game showed they are indeed correctable. In that sense, perhaps MacLellan won't feel compelled to make any further moves or, if he does, just some minor tweaks to the roster.

The question MacLellan has to ask himself is whether Sunday's win is the beginning of the turnaround or if it was just the team getting up for a big game and a big opponent? Sunday's win will mean nothing if they revert back to how they have been playing lately. How much will MacLellan regret not trying to do something on Monday if the Caps walk away with one point against Winnipeg and Minnesota over the next three games?

Turning point

With the way things have gone for Washington of late, it had every reason to collapse after Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in just 26 seconds in the second period. The first two periods were not good and the Penguins were in complete control. But a different team took the ice in the third period and took back the game with three goals. Tom Wilson scored less than two minutes into the third on a 4-on-4 breakaway opportunity. The goal was a great play by both Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom.

Wilson first forced the neutral zone turnover by defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Backstrom hit the loose puck up to Wilson and then quickly turned his body into the path of Pettersson, holding him up slightly to allow Wilson to get the breakaway. Wilson did the rest, deftly deking Murray and tucking the puck into the back of the net.

Play of the game

It's not really a play, but Dillon beat the snot out of Malkin.

And here's a bonus Caps fans will enjoy.

Stat of the game

With one assist, John Carlson passed Calle Johnasson for the most points by a defenseman in franchise history with 475. Carlson tied that mark on Saturday and was honored earlier in the game with a video tribute.

"Yeah, it's not my favorite thing," he said of the tribute, which is very in-tune with his personality.

Quote of the game

It didn't take long for Dillon to adjust to the Caps-Penguins rivalry.

"I like to play hard, especially against those top-end guys. Malkin's a heck of a player. He plays a physical game, too, sometimes. With these rivalry-type games, tempers run high and it was great."

Fan predictions

Just had to include this one because I love that it came from "Cautiously Optimistic."

The defense was much more sound in this game, though Sidney Crosby got a short breakaway goal in the second.

Could be, but so far so good!

Maryland was leading at the time of writing.  I feel your pain. I have only one kid and sleep is limited. Mine broke my toe though.

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