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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 Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

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