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


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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The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

On Saturday, the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals faced off against one of the hottest young teams in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was viewed as a marquee matchup and it certainly lived up to its billing with both teams battling in a tight, well-played game.

In the end, Toronto walked away as the 4-2 victors in one of their better wins of the young season, but not everyone left that game impressed.

A team that already boasted super-star talent Auston Matthews added John Tavares in the offseason as a free agent giving the Maple Leafs a formidable one, two punch at center. For most of the game, the Caps were able to shut down that center tandem.

Lars Eller was asked after the game how the Caps were able to keep the Leafs’ big stars in check and he indicated that perhaps Tavares and Matthews were not as formidable a pair as they had been made out to be.

“We’re used to playing against [Sidney Crosby] and [Evgeni Malkin],” Eller said. “Everything kind of drops from there so it’s not that special. It’s a good team like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I think.”

Not surprisingly, that quote caught Toronto’s attention, especially forward Nazem Kadri.

Per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Kadri called Eller’s comments “bulletin board material.”

With 12 points in seven games, the Maple Leafs currently boast the top record in the league. Toronto is far from perfect, however, and their defense remains a major question mark in whether this team is a true Stanley Cup contender.

But as to whether or not they are a playoff team? That seems like a pretty safe bet.

The Caps and Maple Leafs will meet twice more this season on Jan. 23 and Feb. 21. Both games are in Toronto.  



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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now


Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”