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With Green gone, who will find Ovi's sweet spot?

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With Green gone, who will find Ovi's sweet spot?

For the better part of 10 years, Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin formed one of the most dynamic power-play duos in the NHL, with Green deftly feeding pucks into Ovechkin’s powerful wheelhouse for blinding one-timers.

With Green now in Detroit running the Red Wings’ power play, John Carlson and Matt Niskanen will be asked to hands that feed Ovechkin.

“They were really good at it,” said Niskanen, whose power play minutes went from 242 in Pittsburgh in 2013-14 to just 87 with the Capitals last season. “They played together a long time and had that chemistry. That’s something that developed.

“Obviously, having a lot of skill helps. Hopefully, with some more reps I can get better at that skill, feeding Ovi in the sweet spot. There are other aspects of the power play that I’ll get to a higher level sooner, but I’ll take the reps as they come and try to get better at it.”

Green led all Caps defensemen in power-play time last season with 198 minutes. Carlson was right behind him with 142 minutes and the two helped the Caps finish with the NHL’s No. 1 power play at 25.3 percent. Ovechkin also finished with a league-high 25 power-play goals.

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Carlson split time last season between the No. 1 and No. 2 power-play units and said with the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams the Caps should have more options than just Ovechkin blasting away from the left faceoff circle.

“I know that situation (with Green and Ovechkin) was great, but I’ve got to go out there and make  sure I’m doing whatever I can. We have a lot of great shooters and great puck movers so I don’t take anything for granted.”

Carlson said that while Green and Ovechkin shared a special chemistry, there is more to setting up Ovechkin than simply getting the puck on his stick.

“You can’t just look at him and pass it to him and he’s going to score every time,” Carlson said. “There’s other stuff that goes on that dictates the play. Where do I get the puck from? Where is their forward? Is he on him? Is he shading toward me? Is he in my shot lane?

“At the end of the day, you let your mind react. You need to know the good times to pass it to him, the times to fake. In some situations you need to get it over there as quickly as possible. Sometimes he’s thinking he’s going down (low to the net), but their defender could be coming up and he picks it off and I’m in no man’s land.

“We can talk about it all we want, but it’s about reading and reacting.”

Since 17 of Green’s 45 points last season came on the man-advantage,  there will also be even-strength points that need to be picked up on the Caps’ blue line.

Niskanen, who saw his point totals drop from 46 with the Penguins to 31 with the Caps, said he’ll put a little pressure on himself to produce more offense this season.

“Greener had a really good year last year,” Niskanen said. “He produced a lot and he played a lot on that first power play for the majority of the year. That’s something as a group we’re going to have to pick up that slack. I don’t think me or John Carlson are going to get (his 45) points. But as a group, getting more involved in the offense, I think you should see some of our numbers go up.”

MORE CAPITALS: Oshie flashes offensive brilliance in Caps win

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Can Braden Holtby quiet goalie controversy, rebound from tough start?

Can Braden Holtby quiet goalie controversy, rebound from tough start?

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Braden Holtby has been here before. Every goalie in the NHL has good stretches and bad. Really, one thing that defines a goalie is how they overcome those bad stretches. Holtby had perhaps the greatest rebound a goalie could ever have, going from losing his starting job to Philipp Grubauer in 2018 to taking back the crease in the playoffs and leading the team to a Stanley Cup.

But could this year be different?

A poor start is one thing, but there are also other external factors that may be contributing.

In five games this season, Holtby has a .846 save percentage and 4.27 GAA. His save percentage is the worst among all goalies with at least four starts and his GAA is the second-worst behind only Devan Dubnyk’ s 4.56. It’s a small sample size, but those are horrific numbers made worse by Monday’s performance in which he allowed three goals on three shots before being pulled.

“It was a tough game for Braden and I think he'll be the first one to admit it,” Todd Reirden said after practice on Tuesday. “That's a game I think he'd like to do some things different. I think our team could have played closer to our identity than we did to give him a better chance to have success. But the good thing is he's accountable to it, he knows. He's accountable to himself, he's accountable to his teammates, he's accountable to everybody that he can be better than that and when he gets that chance he will.”

But will he?

Just 16 months removed from overcoming the worst stretch of his career and hoisting the Stanley Cup and still only 30 years old, it seems premature to declare Holtby as finished or to assume he won’t be able to dig himself out of this hole.

“Usually it's just getting back to the basics of things,” Holtby said when asked about overcoming a slump. “A lot of times when things are going your way, you're usually pushing forward too fast and make things [instead] of just letting them come to you. It's just getting back to the basics of playing, trusting your instincts and not letting it affect you. Just go out and play.”

“In times like these - good or bad - it's usually not as good as you think or not as bad as you think,” he added. “You just have to get yourself back to that level mentally where you can break things down and see just those little areas that might be just off a bit that could be the difference.”

But there are two external factors that could be putting pressure on Holtby mentally.

First, this year is the final year of Holtby’s contract. Playing in a contract year can be tough and Holtby certainly would not be the first player to succumb to the pressure that comes with an uncertain future. The second is that his replacement, Ilya Samsonov is now backing him up and doing a pretty darn good job with it.

In three appearances this season, Samsonov, 22, has a .944 save percentage and 1.43 GAA. He was Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2015 and the fact that his first season in the NHL happens to be the last of Holtby’s contract is impossible not to notice.

Holtby was asked if his contract or Samsonov’s presence was affecting him mentally.

“I don’t know, I just think it's wanting to win, wanting to get a good start, maybe getting a little ahead of myself,” he said. “In ways, trying to push too hard. Just take a deep breath and just go out and play. I mean, it's seven games in. A couple months, you won't even remember this conversation. You just stick to the process and keep doing what you think you can do to help the team win.”

“When you break it down like that, who his backup is, yes it is a different scenario,” Reirden said. “The one scenario that isn't different is that I still have plenty of confidence in him. Lots of confidence in him. He's been through this before. We saw that in the Stanley Cup year and then he ends up taking over and helping us win the Stanley Cup and be a huge part of it.”

While Reirden still professes his confidence in Holtby, the recent struggles as well as Samsonov’s strong play have at least given him pause.

Following Monday’s loss, Reirden said of Samsonov, “He's doing what he's supposed to be doing, and that's to make it like a decision every night of who's going to be considered to play that game.”

Reirden also would not commit to naming a starter for Wednesday’s game against a star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs team, but he seemed to be leaning towards Samsonov to give Holtby time to reset. At least that’s what it sounded like.

“Much like every player, goalies will go through situations like this and I'm sure that's how [Holtby] feels about the start to the year. I'm confident that we've got a few practices here, he gets to reset and work with [goalie coach] Scott Murray and get things settled in and then he's ready to go again.”

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How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

Sitting firmly at third place in their respective divisions, the Capitals and Maple Leafs are both eager to grab another win for themselves in this classic Atlantic vs Metropolitan division matchup. 

Here is everything you need to know about the Wednesday night game, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS vs. MAPLE LEAFS HOW TO WATCH

What: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals, Game 8 of the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs Maple Leafs game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Washington Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs Maple Leafs on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS VS MAPLE LEAFS TV SCHEDULE

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs Maple Leafs

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

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