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Caps take stranglehold of the division with physical win over Columbus

Caps take stranglehold of the division with physical win over Columbus

Final score: Washington Capitals 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

How it happened: After a scoreless first period, T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky scored 1:44 apart in early in the second to give the Caps a 2-0 lead. Matt Niskanen would add a third goal later in the period to give Washington a commanding lead through 40 minutes. Jack Johnson scored a beauty in the third to put some life into Columbus. Then the fisticuffs happened. After taking a few rabbit punches from Josh Anderson, Alex Ovechkin threw a few punches of his own and line brawl broke out. Kyle Quincey scored to pull Columbus within one with just under five minutes remaining, but Washington held on for the 3-2 win.

What it means: The win gives Washington a five-point lead in the Metropolitan Division over Pittsburgh and a six-point lead over Columbus. All three teams have four games remaining.

Goals

Caps goal: T.J. Oshie from Nicklas Backstrom at 1:12 in the 1st period. A long breakout pass from Backstrom went deep into Columbus’ zone. Oshie retrieved it from the right circle then cut inside and backhanded the shot past Bobrovsky. Caps 1, Blue Jackets 0

Caps goal: Andre Burakovsky from Lars Eller and Kevin Shattenkirk at 2:56 in the 2nd period. Eller entered the zone with the puck, but was forced to the outside. He took the puck around behind the net then pulled off a sweet little spin-around pass to Burakovsky who hit the top corner or the net. Caps 2, Blue Jackets 0

Caps goal: Matt Niskanen from Andre Burakovsky at 10:05 in the 2nd period. Burakovsky intercepted a pass from the point in the defensive zone and it was off to the races. Niskanen jumped into the play and received the great pass from Burakovsky and was able to shoot it home. Caps 3, Blue Jackets 0

Blue Jackets goal: Jack Johnson from Alexander Wennberg and Sam Gagner at 9:22 in the 3rd period. Johnson scored a highlight reel goal to get Columbus on the board. As he carried the puck into the offensive zone he easily deked John Carlson, then pulled off a curl and drag past Tom Wilson before beating Holtby down low with the shot. Caps 3, Blue Jackets 1

Blue Jackets goal: Kyle Quincey from Sam Gagner and Brandon Saad at 15:33 in the 3rd period. Saad kicked the puck up to the point and Quincey fired a slap shot that took a couple of bounces on its way into the back of the net. Caps 3, Blue Jackets 2

3 stars

1. Braden Holtby: In a battle between two of the top netminders in the NHL, Holtby stole the show. He turned aside 34 shots including one with just three seconds remaining to hold on to the one-goal lead.

2. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky scored Washington's second goal to give the Caps control of the game in the second period. He also set up the third goal with a great steal and a great pass to find the open Niskanen.

3. Jack Johnson: Give him credit, that was a beautiful goal and it breathed life into a Blue Jackets team that looked defeated at that point.

Look ahead: The Caps wrap up their five-game road trip on Tuesday in Toronto. They then return home on Wednesday to host the New York Rangers and wrap-up the regular season with another back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday in Boston and then at home against Florida.

Tell us what you think: With the win, the magic number for Washington to clinch the Metropolitan Division is four. Did this win seal the deal for the Caps or will Pittsburgh and Columbus continue to challenge Washington?

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This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

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Twitter/@PeachOmania

This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

Since the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time over one month ago, Caps fans, (and players), have rushed to their local tattoo parlor to get some ink commemorating the win.

We've seen the classic Capitals logo with the Stanley Cup, but nothing that comes close to the masterpiece that is Shane Peacher's tattoo.

Peacher tweeted to Joe B and Courtney Laughlin the finished tat: a work of art featuring Alex Ovechkin kissing the Stanley Cup for the first time as it's hoisted over his head.

Joe B replied making sure Shane had enough room on his other tricep for next year.

Shane replied that he's thinking of Evgeny Kuznetsov's iconic celebration that has since been dubbed the "birdman."

Shane got his Caps tattoo at the Helix Tattoo Lodge in Rising Sun, Maryland, by tattoo artist, Justin Holcombe.

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Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?

Tarik: When a player has a career year and it coincides with the final year of his contract, the reaction from some fans and media is often a sarcastic, ‘Well, of course he did.’

And I’m sure there are some folks who wonder about Carlson’s breakout season and whether there was a connection between the uptick in his production and the potential of an enormous payday.

Indeed, the 28-year-old established highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68) and ice time (24:47). He was outstanding in the postseason, too, amassing five goals and 15 assists while playing solidly in his own end to help lead the Caps to their first championship.

The financial reward came a couple of weeks later when he signed an eight-year, $64 million contract to remain in Washington.

Which brings us to today’s question.

It’s obviously impossible to say for sure what’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had another big season. Why? A few reasons:

  • As good as he was, last year wasn’t a total outlier, either. Carlson racked up 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 2014-15, which was tied for fifth best among blue liners that year.
  • He was at his best last season skating with trade deadline addition Michal Kempny. Kempny, of course, also re-upped, agreeing to a four-year extension. So, in theory, Carlson should be able to pick up where he left off.
  • Carlson has credited Todd Reirden with helping him take his game to new heights. Well, Reirden is now the guy in charge of the whole operation. How could that not help?
  • A major reason Carlson puts up so many points is his role on the power play. And that unit, which really hit its stride in the postseason (29.3-percent), returns all five skaters.
  • Carlson has also been pretty durable, which is critical to being productive. In fact, last season he skated in all of the Caps’ games for the sixth time in eight full-time seasons.

So, yeah, it’s all setting up nicely for Carlson to have a strong 2018-19.

To me, the only unknown is whether he’ll have the same hunger and determination now that he’s got long-term security and that previously elusive championship ring.

Again, that’s impossible to predict. But I can tell you this: Over the course of two decades in this business, I’ve covered lots of players who inked life-changing contracts. With a few of them, I had immediate concerns.

I have no such reservations about Carlson's ability to play up to his new deal, particularly in the first several seasons of it.

JJ: There's nothing wrong with a player being motivated by a new deal, but I am always wary when players have career years on the last year of their contract.

The issue is whether or not a player can continue to play at the level they showed when a new contract is no longer a motivating factor. After signing a new deal for eight years and $64 million, Carlson won't have to think about money or contracts for a long time.

When it comes to motivation, a lot of the questions surrounding the Capitals this year will depend on how they react to winning the Cup. Of course everyone wants to repeat, but psychologically will they come into camp more motivated than ever to defend their title or will they be satisfied with finally winning it all?

For Carlson, there are several reasons to be hopeful. Tarik went over a number of those reasons above, but the two biggest for me are Michal Kempny and Todd Reirden.

This season, Carlson will have Kempny as his partner to start, rather than a cycle of practically every left-handed defenseman on the ice depending on the situation. Second, what Mitch Korn is to goalies, Reirden is to defensemen. With him as the head coach, I believe the ceiling for Carlson will only continue to climb.

Let's also go beyond the numbers. Matt Niskanen suffered an injury early last season that forced Carlson into a primary role on both ends of the ice. He was playing nearly 30 minutes a night and, with two rookies on the blue line who Barry Trotz did everything he could to shelter, those were very hard minutes. Yet, Carlson excelled. The offensive upside was always there, but the way he played defensively was a revelation.

While Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen will remain a solid pair for the Caps, I believe Carlson will be the guy heading into the season which will mean more minutes and more responsibility.

Plus, despite what he meant to the team's defense and despite leading all defensemen in points with 68, Carlson was not selected to participate in the All-Star Game, he was not one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy and he was not among the four defensemen named to the end of season All-Star team. His incredible season earned him no recognition at all other than his new contract. A $64 million contract is a heck of a consolation prize, but his season deserved more recognition than that.

You don't often see a player of his caliber enter a season with a chip on his shoulder, but Carlson should have a fairly sizable one.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?