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Defense comes up big on both ends in Caps' win over Senators

Defense comes up big on both ends in Caps' win over Senators

The Caps' defense limited the Ottawa Senators to only one goal and scored both of the Caps' tallies in a 2-1 win on Sunday.

How it happened: Kyle Turris opened the scoring in the second period. With the puck trickling into the corner of the defensive zone, Matt Niskanen went to retrieve, but it took an unfortunate bounce over his stick allowing Ryan Dzingel to take possession behind the net. He fed a wide open Turris in the slot who buried it into the back of the net. The Caps tried to tie it with a Hail Mary pass from John Carlson to spring Justin Williams for the breakaway. He was stopped by goalie Mike Condon, but T.J. Oshie did not give up on the play. He retrieved the puck behind the net and teed up Karl Alzner for the monster slap shot that beat Condon.

The defense struck again in the third period as Taylor Chorney fired a one-timer off a pass from Brooks Orpik past Mike Condon for what would prove to be the game-winner.

What it means: Washington now has five points in its last three games. The Caps are now 17-6-3-1 on New Year's Day and have won five straight on Jan. 1.

Turning point: Down 1-0, the Caps faced a critical penalty kill late in the second period as Nicklas Backstrom was called for holding. In a game in which Washington was struggling to generate much offense from its forwards, a 2-0 deficit would have been a tough hole to dig out of. Instead, the penalty killers did their job and Alzner scored the equalizer just seven seconds after the penalty expired.

Turning point part II: The Caps held a 2-1 lead in the third period and then were hit with not one, but two minor penalties at the same time. Brooks Orpik was called for a trip and Evgeny Kuznetsov was given a slash to boot meaning the Caps faced a full two minutes of a five-on-three power play. The penalty killers, however, were up to the task thanks in large part to Braden Holtby who was fantastic. The kill was a huge momentum swing for the Caps.

Defense is the best offense: The Caps struggled offensively in the first period as they defaulted too much to their defense. Saturday's win in New Jersey highlighted the effectiveness of deflections and screens, but Washington may have taken that lesson a bit too seriously as five of the team's eight shots on goal in the first period were by defensemen. It should come as no surprise then than both of the team's goals ultimately came from blue liners Alzner and Chorney. The goal is Alzner's third of the season and the 19th of his career. Chorney's goal, meanwhile, came in just his seventh game of the season. It is his second goal as a Cap and the third of his career.

Special teams ups and downs: Just as the penalty kill began heating up for the Caps, the power play has suddenly gone cold. Washington killed all four power plays it faced Sunday and has not allowed a power play goal in seven straight games. The Caps, however, also failed to score on either of their two opportunities and have not scored with the man advantage in six straight games.

Third is the new first? Washington's best offensive line by far was the third line, specifically Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky. Eller and Burakovsky were the only two forwards to generate shots on goal for the Caps until about midway through the game. While neither player got on the scoresheet, both players combined for seven shots on goal on the night. 

Look ahead: The Caps’ three-game home stand continues Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then the hottest team in the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets come to town on Thursday.

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Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

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USA TODAY Sports

Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

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 the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

Tarik: The term ‘Stanley Cup Hangover’ exists because, well, it’s a real thing. And the Caps, like all teams that battle into early June, are vulnerable to suffering from it next season.

Why? Think about it. No. 1, the core group just completed the longest season—106 games—of their lives (and, somewhere, the party is still going). No. 2, the top guys aren't exactly a bunch of spring chickens. No. 3, human nature.

A little more on that last one. Alex Ovechkin and Co. have spent the entirety of their professional hockey careers chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup. And now they have it. At long last. Hoisting the Cup was as much a moment to cherish as it was a gigantic relief for a team that had been labeled perennial underachievers. Shifting gears from that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment back to hunger and determination is difficult.

Something else that worries me a bit? They don’t have experience dealing with a truncated offseason. Rest and recovery matter. And they aren’t going to get much of either this summer.

All that said, they don’t have to stumble through the 2018-19 season. If you're looking at things from the optimist's point of view, the Cup run did something for Ovechkin and his teammates that none of the previous failures could: It showed them EXACTLY what it takes to play deep into the spring.

Eleven out of 12 forwards from the championship squad are expected back. Five of six defensemen and the goalie are returning, as well. Sure, they’ve got a new head coach, but he’s been here for four years already, giving him a huge advantage over a bench boss who’s starting from scratch. So there’s continuity and chemistry already built in.

I look at it like this: The core guys who’ve been around a while—Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Holtby, etc.—have a rare opportunity before them. After coming up short for so many years, they’ve been gifted an extraordinary chance to make up for lost time over the next 12-24 months. In fact, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Eller, Carlson, Niskanen, Orlov, Kempny and Holtby have two more years together, as a core, before the next round of tough decisions will need to be made.

But it’s going to be up to them. Are they going to be satisfied with one Cup? Or will they get greedy? I’m betting on the latter.

Regan: The Capitals could enter next season hungry, motivated, in the right mindset, completely prepared in every way to avoid a Cup hangover and it may still happen. Why? Because the Capitals (and Vegas for that matter) will enter next season with less time to rest, recover and prepare after a grueling playoff run than any other team in the NHL.

First things first, no, I do not think the Caps will struggle because they are are partying too hard this summer and won't be ready for the start of the season.

It took a long time Washington to finally reach the top of the mountain. It won't be lost on Alex Ovechkin, or any of the veterans, that the year he came into training camp early and in really good shape, that was the year he was able to lead his team to the promised land. Considering all the struggles, all the early playoff exits, all the years it took to finally win, I expect the veterans will look at how they prepared last season and take that lesson to heart going into camp. Those players will enter the fall in as good a shape as the time they have this offseason will allow them to be.

But this team is not just composed of veterans of the Ovechkin era who suffered through all of those postseason struggles.

What about the youngsters? Will Jakub Vrana have the same motivation as Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom to show up to camp ready next season? What about Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey? If any of the team's young players aren't exactly in "game shape" by the fall, they won't be the first and they certainly won't be the last to struggle with early career playoff success.

There's also a new head coach to consider. In a lot of ways, I think coming into the season with a new coach in Todd Reirden will help. I don't expect too much adjustment under a coach the team knows very well, but I do expect more motivation at the start of the regular season than you usually see from a team coming off a championship.

There are a lot of reasons why the Caps could actually avoid a Cup hangover, but the fact is that time puts them at a disadvantage. Even if they overcome all the other factors, there's nothing they can do to suddenly give themselves more time to recover and to train. For that reason alone, I do expect a few early-season struggles from the defending champs.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may have won the American Century Championships celebrity golf tournament this weekend, but T.J. Oshie definitely had the most fun.

Using the Modified Stableford scoring format for the tournament — which included several pro and retired athletes, such as Steph Curry, Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Charles Barkley and Joe Pavelski — Oshie finished with 11 points, tying for 48th with NFL Hall of Famer Tim Brown and Golf Channel host Lisa Cornwell. 

But the Capitals' winger's score didn't really matter because Oshie was out on the Lake Tahoe golf course in Nevada just having fun with his family and continuing the epic celebration as a new Stanley Cup champion. Obviously, that meant playing and chugging a beer through his t-shirt as 'We Are The Champions' played.

His brother, Taylor, was his caddy, and at one point, Oshie borrowed his brother's beer helmet while putting. He sunk it, and it was amazing.

Yeah, Oshie had a great weekend. Here's a look at some other moments from his weekend on Lake Tahoe.

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