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How Alex Ovechkin can keep hot playoff play going vs. Penguins

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USA TODAY Sports

How Alex Ovechkin can keep hot playoff play going vs. Penguins

When the Capitals and Penguins face off in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the spotlight will shine brightly on captains Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. 

Both are coming off dominant first-round series, but in their own unique ways.  

Crosby led the Penguins with eight points (3 goals, 5 assists), with five of them coming on the power play, where the Pens converted on 8 of 21 opportunities in their five-game dismantling of the New York Rangers.

Ovechkin managed three goals and two assists in the Caps’ six-game series victory over the Flyers, with three of those five points coming on the power play, where the Caps converted on 8 of 27 opportunities.

But Ovechkin was dominant in other ways, leading the Capitals in hits (28) and shots (29) while averaging 19:51 in ice time, most among caps forwards.

“I feel like he played a hell of a series,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Sunday afternoon following the Caps’ series-clinching 1-0 win in Philadelphia. “He was physical, two-way player. He affected every game, whether or not it was offensively.”

That, more than anything is the difference between Ovechkin and Crosby and the biggest reason the comparisons between the two players hold little weight.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he thought Ovechkin played his best game against the Flyers in Game 5, a 2-0 loss.

“There was a lot of debris in that game,” Trotz said, recognizing the much of it came from Ovechkin. “He’s a horse, he’s hard to handle. I know a few of their defensemen were exhausted from trying to handle him, and when he steps up, there’s very few guys you can think of in the league that have the amount of ability. 

“You think of Alex Ovechkin as a sniper, one of the best snipers maybe of this decade. But adding the physicality and the size can wear teams down, especially in a seven-game series.

MORE CAPITALS: PENALTIES GALORE

“I don’t think there was a better player on the ice. He was an absolute beast. It was sort of funny: People were bouncing off of him, he was throwing them away, and I was really surprised he didn’t score (in Game 5). And when he raises that level, it’s a challenge for anybody in the National Hockey League. We’re very fortunate to have him, that’s for sure.”

The Penguins won three of the five regular season matchups against the Capitals, with Crosby recording a goal and three assists and Ovechkin failing to record a point. 

The two stars have not met in the playoffs since 2009 when Ovechkin recorded 8 goals and 6 assists for 14 points and Crosby finished with 8 goals and 5 assists for 13 points. The Caps won the first two games of that series, only to see the Penguins storm back to win in seven games, three of which required overtime.

Don’t be surprised to see Ovechkin and Crosby going head-to-head in this series. Trotz did not try to get away from matching Ovechkin’s line against Claude Giroux (held to one point) in Round 1 and there’s a good chance you’ll see Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie out against Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan could tweak his lines between now and the series opener against the Capitals, but for the Pens’ series-clinching win on Saturday, the Pens’ lineup looked like this:

Forward lines

Conor Sheary – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist

Chris Kunitz – Evgeny Malkin – Eric Fehr

Carl Hagelin – Nick Bonino – Phil Kessel

Tom Kuhnhackl – Matt Cullen – Bryan Rust

Defense pairs

Olli Maatta – Kris Letang

Trevor Daly – Brian Dumoulin

Ian Cole – Ben Lovejoy

Goaltenders

Matt Murray – Jeff Zatkoff

Injured: Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion)  

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Capitals vs. Canucks: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

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USA Today

Capitals vs. Canucks: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

The Washington Capitals (3-2-2) head to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada after an overtime/shootout loss against the Florida Panthers last Friday. 

The Caps are determined to avoid the devastation they felt in the first period when they gave away four goals to the Panthers. They will need to focus in the power plays and avoid penalties at all costs.

Many fans were looking forward to the reunion with former player Jay Beagle, who is now centerman for the Canucks, but he is unfortunately out on injury. However you can look out for Caps Nic Dowd, who will have his own homecoming game against his former team. 

Here is everything you need to know about Capitals vs. Canucks which takes place at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.
 

CAPITALS vs. CANUCKS HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 8 of the 2018-19 NHL Regular Season

Where: Rogers Arena, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

When: Monday, October 22 at 10:00 p.m. ET

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

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs. Canucks 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. CANUCKS SCHEDULE

9:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live
9:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live
10:00 PM: Capitals vs. Canucks
12:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

CAPITALS vs. CANUCKS PLAYERS TO WATCH

Lars Eller, F, Capitals: In his last game, he had a three-point night with three assists. He is a messaive help and shined within the trio of Vrana and Connoly on Friday.

Tim Schaller, F, Canucks: He was struggling in the preseason but came back with a vengeance. He assisted with a penatly kill and is a key component in fourth line. 

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

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What is a back-up goalie’s job during a game?

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USA TODAY

What is a back-up goalie’s job during a game?

At the end of every bench in the NHL is a goalie sitting in full pads and a hat. What is his job during the game?

Friday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers was one of the rare games that featured four goalies. Braden Holtby and James Reimer started, but both were ultimately pulled in what was a high-scoring affair. In stepped Pheonix Copley and Michael Hutchinson.

And yet, despite being little more than an afterthought in the team’s preparation for the game, both Copley (one goal allowed on 19 shots, .947 save percentage) and Hutchinson (one goal allowed on 11 shots, .909 save percentage) stepped in and out-performed the starters giving both of their respective teams a chance to win the game.

“It's easier in some aspects,” Holtby said of coming into a game off the bench, something he has done at various points of his career despite being the primary starter for Washington. “I think that's why you see a lot of guys go in and have success right away and have good games because you don't have that day or two days to be getting rid of your thoughts and that kind of thing.”

At the end of every bench in the NHL is a goalie sitting in full pads and a hat. Every team dresses two goalies on the roster for a game. One starts and one sits on the bench as the backup in case he is needed because of injury or because a coach chooses to make a goalie switch. That backup is tasked with being ready at all times to step into the game knowing full well that, if all goes according to plan, he will not get to play at all.

Holtby and Reimer had prepared for Friday’s game knowing they were going to start. Both players took warmups in order to prepare them to play a full game while Copley and Hutchinson had little reason to think they would see any action at all.

By the end of the second period, however, both Holtby and Reimer had been replaced. Copley at least had an intermission to prepare as he came on at the start of the second period while Hutchinson had to step in midway through the second period.

“I guess it can be a little challenging,” Copley said, “But I feel like as long as you’re kind of paying attention to the game and your mind's kind of in that hockey mindset then if something happens, I'll be ready to go.”

Professional athletes are creatures of habit. To have to step into a game unexpectedly with little to no warning or preparation and be expected to perform at the highest level is an incredibly tough mental challenge.

And yet, in many ways, it can be easier than starting.

“The whole thing about mental preparation is so that you go out there not thinking about anything, not worrying about any of that,” Holtby said. “When you're forced in with a matter of 30 seconds, there's no time to think about anything. You just go in and play.”

For goalies, not starting does not mean having the night off. Both coaches and teammates alike can lean upon a backup netminder as an extra set of eyes.

“Sometimes they'll ask a question like did it look like I had room there?” Copley said. “Was it a shot or missed? Did you see what happened on this play? So I just try to be there and watch.”

Some coaches even give goalies assignments in game, though that practice seems to be on the decline.

“I know [Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock] makes them look at faceoffs or something,” Holtby said. “It's pretty archaic. There's guys that do that now that are better than the backup goalie at looking at things.”

In truth, there is no defined in-game requirements for most goalies in the NHL when they sit as backups and that is true of the Caps’ tandem. That makes the job of a backup a very simple one.

“I just try and be ready if I have to go in,” Copley said. “Make sure I'm physically and mentally ready and be a good teammate.”

Holtby put it even more succinctly as he said, “Don't do anything stupid.”