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Holtby, Ellis preparing for 3-on-3 onslaught

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Holtby, Ellis preparing for 3-on-3 onslaught

Fresh off a statement season in which he set career highs in wins (41), shutouts (9), games played (73), goals-against average (2.22) and save percentage (.923), Braden Holtby will make his preseason debut tonight when the Capitals take on the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center.

“Finally,” Holtby said with a grin. “I can’t wait.”

Holtby is scheduled to play the first 30 minutes of tonight’s game before giving way to Dan Ellis, a 35-year-old veteran goaltender signed by the Capitals on July 4, two days after the Capitals acquired right wing T.J. Oshie from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for right wing Troy Brouwer, goaltender Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick in next year’s draft.

A 12-year veteran of 212 NHL games and 195 AHL games, Ellis said he had received only a few “nibbles” and “poking around” when free agency opened on July 1. But after the Caps made the deal for Oshie, he reached out to Capitals goaltending coach Mitch Korn, his goaltending coach in Nashville from 2007-10.

“It was kind of a last-minute thing,” Ellis said. “I asked Mitch if it opened a spot. He said there was a list and I might be on it. Forty-eight hours later I signed.”

RELATED: Caps' ECHL affiliate reveals 'Charleston Strong' jersey

In all likelihood, Ellis will begin the 2015-16 season as the backup in Hershey, under either Justin Peters or Philipp Grubauer, who are fighting for the right to back up Holtby.

“As a backup goalie you always want to give your starter the rest he needs and when he does get those games off you want to give the team the confidence there’s not going to be a big step down,” said Ellis, who last season played in eight games for the Florida Panthers and 37 games for the AHL San Antonio Rampage.

With rookie prospects Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos expected to begin their pro careers in Hershey, Ellis said he hopes to provide the veteran presence needed on the Bears.

“I’m one of the older guys, next to (Jason) Chimera, and you want to bring a little bit of calmness to the room, especially when things get hairy. I’m a humorous guy and light-hearted, so if you can lighten the load on some of these guys, it’s key.

“Sometimes if a coach is harping down their throats I can be the guy to encourage and tell them to stick with it.”

Since Ellis will play the second half of tonight’s game he’ll also get the call for the 3-on-3 overtime period, which will be played regardless of the score after 60 minutes to allow teams experiment with the new format.

Ellis had some experience with the 3-on-3 format last season in San Antonio, when the AHL experimented with a seven-minute overtime that began 4-on-4 before going to 3-on-3.

“Obviously, there’s going to be a learning curve for these guys,” Ellis said. “It’s going to be pretty wide open. This is the highest level of skill in the world and when you give a guy like (Alex) Ovechkin multiple breakaways he’s going to score. This team is loaded with talent.”

Ellis offered some cautionary advice to players like Ovechkin, saying many missed shots led to game-deciding breakaways the other way.  

“Honestly, when someone missed the net the puck would carom around,” Ellis said. “One guy bolts the zone and is on a breakaway. I’d say we had four or five games ended on straight breakaways. You definitely don’t want to miss the net.”

The Caps will also experiment with the 3-on-3 overtime following regulation on Tuesday night in Boston and again on Friday night, Oct. 2 at home against the Bruins. Unless their other games go to overtime, Holtby’s first taste of 3-on-3 could come on Oct. 2.

“Goaltending doesn’t change much,” Holtby said. “You find the open guys, realize your options and react to it. We train all summer 3-on-3. It’s not exactly our favorite thing, but it will be more fun when it’s intense with guys actually backchecking.”

Caps coach Barry Trotz wondered if some goalies might switch to lighter sticks or gloves so they can handle the puck better in the overtime periods. Holtby says he won’t.

“Mine are kind of based on that already,” he said.

MORE CAPITALS: Oshie thrilled to be playing with Ovechkin

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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