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Carrick stands by decision to go to OHL


Carrick stands by decision to go to OHL

Hes only 18 years old, but Capitals defensive prospect Connor Carrick already thinks like a family man.

When the Capitals took Carrick in the fifth round of the NHL draft last month in Pittsburgh, Carrick made sure his two younger brothers, Blake, 15, and Hunter, 11, were there to soak up the atmosphere.

And when the Caps invited him to participate in this weeks development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Carrick found a way to have his two little brothers tag along.

Maybe that explains the extra cheering Friday when Carrick scored his first goal of development camp.

I thought I heard them, Carrick said. Or maybe they were in the lobby getting nachos.

When the Capitals drafted Carrick, the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder from Orland Park, Ill., had already signed a commitment letter to attend Michigan. But in the weeks that followed Carrick grew more interested in the opportunity to play for the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League and recently agreed to play there instead.

When people say you went back on your commitment, those are tough words to swallow, Carrick said. But they might not know all the different facets of my decision and how much sleep was lost over this decision.

At the end of the day I had to do what was best for me. If I thought Michigan was the best road for me I would have gone there 100 percent. I changed my mind and Im going to go into Plymouth 100 percent.

Although he crafted his game under the U.S. development program, Carrick said he decided to go to the OHL for several reasons. He likes the idea of playing a 68-game schedule similar to the NHL and the fact he will receive lots of ice time with the Whalers.

But he especially likes the idea of living at home with his family, which is looking to rent a home in nearby Novi, Mich. Carricks brothers are playing triple A hockey in Michigan and said his family decided its best if they stay together for the next few years.

Carrick said its important for the coaching staff at Michigan to realize that his decision was made by him and not by the Capitals.

It looked as if the Capitals pushed me one way and that could not be more wrong, he said. I was pretty much decided on Plymouth before the draft.

Many NHL teams believe Canadas major junior programs are best suited to prepare prospects for the demands of an NHL schedule, but Caps director of amateur scouting Ross Mahoney said the club did not try to influence Carricks decision one way or the other.

Are we happy hes going to play there? Sure, Mahoney said. Hes going to play lots of games and have lots of practices. If he had gone to college, would that be a good decision for us? Sure. Its a family decision and we would have supported him either way he chose to go.

Carrick may not possess the size, speed or passing skills of many of the defensemen taken ahead of him in the draft, but his positional play is excellent, his decision making is quick and hes not afraid to throw his body into forwards much bigger than him.

In fact, one of Carricks hardest hits came against 6-foot-4, 205-pound right wing Tom Wilson, who will be his teammate next season in Plymouth.

Hes pretty competitive, Mahoney said of Carrick. Hes not a 6-foot-4 defenseman, but hes very competitive. He had a couple good body checks the other day. He probably surprised Tom a little bit and put him flat on his back.

As for his education, Carrick said he still plans on attending classes at Michigan while playing for Plymouth. And while that may get under the skin of Wolverines fans, hes doesnt seem uncomfortable with that at all.

If they werent really upset then youre not a very good player, he said. They are kind of confused admirers, I guess.

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Even with everything going right for the Capitals, the penalty kill continues to struggle

Even with everything going right for the Capitals, the penalty kill continues to struggle

It’s hard to punch holes in a team that has won five straight and 12 of its last 14, but if there is one cause for concern in recent days for the Capitals it is the penalty kill.

Washington gave up three power play goals to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday and another two to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. In fact, Buffalo’s power play actually scored three times, but the first penalty to Michal Kempny on Saturday expired just as the goal was scored, literally exactly two minutes after the penalty was called. Officially, it was not considered a power play goal, but with the door just opening for Kempny to return, the Caps were still obviously shorthanded when the goal was scored.

Washington struggled on the penalty kill at the start of the season, but things improved dramatically when Tom Wilson returned from suspension. From Nov. 13 – when Wilson made his season debut – to Dec. 14, the penalty kill managed to kill off 85.-4 percent of the power plays it faced. The last two nights, however, the PK managed only 44.4-percent and that’s not counting the Sabres’ third goal that came as the penalty expired.

“We’ve got to continue to get better there,” Reirden said. “We had a stretch where we were doing a better job and then now it's finding its way, multiple ways, different ways into our net. That's not a winning recipe for success.”

So concerned about the penalty kill was Reirden after Friday’s game that he broke up the team’s red-hot fourth line in an attempt to add in another penalty killer. Reirden said before the game that the team’s metrics indicate Chandler Stephenson – who was a healthy scratch on Friday – is one of their better penalty killers. In order to get him back into the lineup, Reirden scratched Dmitrij Jaskin despite the incredible stretch he, Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd have enjoyed in recent days.

Washington may have gotten the win on Saturday, but in terms of improving the penalty kill, the move did not work.

The numbers from Saturday may be bad, but if you are looking for a silver lining, it is the fact that none of Buffalo’s three goals seem to have come as a result of a defensive breakdown. Jack Eichel netted the kinda-sorta power play goal when goalie Pheonix Copley gave up a rebound right to him on the far-side. Eichel then made a great individual effort to score the second goal, victimizing Dmitry Orlov with some fancy stick work and tucking the puck into the net just over the shoulder of Copley. Rasmus Dahlin scored the third goal when a Jeff Skinner shot from the slot was blocked and came straight to the rookie defenseman.

“They weren't exactly tic-tac-toes,” Devante Smith-Pelly said. “It happens. We’ve just got to stay the course and continue to get better.”

Of those three goals, the only one that looked like a bad play was the third as two Caps collapsed on Skinner leaving Dahlin open, but the point remains that the penalty kill did not appear to be egregiously bad.

Regardless of whether the goals are the result of breakdowns or bad luck, however, the fact is that the penalty kill is charged with keeping the puck out of the net it is has not been able to do so of late.

The Caps are off on Sunday, but will have two days of practice before Wednesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, plenty of time to shore things up on a suddenly leaky PK.

Said Reirden, “It's an area that we've got to work on here while we've got some practice time this week before we play Pittsburgh.”


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Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — To hear Alex Ovechkin tell it, Saturday night was a rough one for him.

“I have pretty good chances, but today, it was not my day,” Ovechkin said. “You can't score every night."

You wonder if Ovechkin watched the contest he just played in. He scored a goal for the sixth game in a row in a 4-3 shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres. He had a game-high eight shots on goal. He set a new career-high point scoring streak (14 games). He had the goal that proved to be the winner in the shootout. He leads the NHL with 29 goals and no one else is even close. Things are going pretty well. 

“Such a threat, especially when he’s confident and he’s shooting the puck where he wants,” teammate Brett Connolly said. “[Ovechkin is] a bull out there, it seems like he keeps getting better and better every year. Such a hungriness to score goals. He’s having a hell of a season and it doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down. We’ve got to as a team really rally around that. When he’s playing that well you want to have guys really look at that and take it another level and fall in behind that.” 

Only five players age 33 or older have had a longer point streak than Ovechkin’s 14 games. His next goal will secure his 14th 30-goal season. He has 23 points during this stretch (17 goals, six assists). You run out of superlatives. 

The same goes for his team. On the heels of a hat trick in Carolina on Friday, Ovechkin helped Washington to its fifth win in a row. The Capitals are 13-3 in their past 16 games and swept a back-to-back set with the Hurricanes and Sabres. Washington is 20-9-3 and with 43 points is six up on second place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division and seven ahead of third-place Pittsburgh. 

Things weren’t perfect on Saturday. The Sabres scored twice on the power play to make it 3-2 before Ovechkin tied it with a booming slap shot after a turnover at 13:46 of the second period. Pheonix Copley stopped 25 of 28 shots subbing for No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby, but the penalty kill continues to tank. 

Buffalo scored twice on the power play to take the lead and the first goal of the game by rising star Jack Eichel came exactly two minutes after a Michal Kempny penalty. You can count that as another if you’d like. Close as it gets. Considering Washington coach Todd Reirden put Chandler Stephenson back into the lineup Saturday because of his prowess on the PK, that’s a bad sign. 

So there are things to work on. But the Capitals are in a good position in the standings. Their stars are scoring. Their injury situation has improved somewhat with defenseman Brooks Orpik on the way by the end of the month. It’s only mid December and there are 50 games to go and things can change in a heartbeat and the playoffs seem forever away. But, for now anyway, life is good.      

“It wasn’t an easy night, but definitely we worked for those last two win,” Connolly said. “It’s a lot of fun right now. Everyone is having fun, everyone is positive and happy. It’s always so much better when you’re winning.”