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How the Caps fixed the team's lack of scoring from the defensemen

How the Caps fixed the team's lack of scoring from the defensemen

Everything just seems to be hitting the back of the net for Washington right now. Monday’s 6-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes marked the eighth straight game in which the Capitals scored four goals or more and the fourth time in the past six games the team scored six goals or more.

One factor in the team’s recent offensive explosion is also one of the most overlooked: The defense.

Through the first 25 games of the season, Washington had only three goals from its blue liners. Two of those goals were from Karl Alzner.

In the 22 games since, the defense has accounted for 15 goals including two from Dmitry Orlov on Monday.

RELATED: Caps score 6 unanswered to crush Canes

“He has a tremendous shot, obviously,” Alex Ovechkin said after the game. “We always tell him to shoot more pucks.

“He’s more like [Nicklas] Lidstrom. Russian Lidstrom.”

That’s lofty praise, but Monday’s game was not just about Orlov’s individual effort and neither is the defense’s sudden offensive production.

Carolina goalie Cam Ward was slow to react on Orlov’s second goal of the game as Lars Eller stood right in the face of the veteran netminder.

“Especially on the second goal, was in front of the goalie and I think he didn't see my shot so I think it's great for them,” Orlov said. “They go to the net and if I don't score at least [they] can keep the goalie in and get rebound.”

The goal highlighted one of the biggest points of emphasis for the Caps this season: Getting traffic in front of the net. With the staking themselves in front of the net, that has left more opportunities for the defense to step into the play and fire shots and get more involved in the offense.

“In order for a defenseman to score, especially from the [blue line] in this league, you need those screens and those screens to be thought out,” Braden Holtby said, “Not just stand in front of the goalie. We started working on crossing in front of the goalie and you can see the results since.”

It’s not just about making the pretty plays anymore. The team’s current hot streak has been more about deflections, screens and rebounds than finesse plays and breakaways. The goals may not be as pretty, but the final score sure is.

Holtby was quick to give credit to the defense as well, but as a goalie, he knows that it’s a heck of a lot easier to stop a shot from the blue line if he can see it all the way through as opposed to having to fight through traffic to locate the puck.

“Obviously you’ve got to shoot in the right place,” Holtby said. “I'm not taking anything away from the D, but in this league you've got to create traffic in order to give them a chance to score.”

MORE CAPITALS: ANDRE BURAKOVSKY NEARLY EARNS A HOCKEY SMILE AFTER HIGH-STICK HITS HIM IN THE MOUTH

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Alex Ovechkin challenges Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin to shave while in isolation

Alex Ovechkin challenges Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin to shave while in isolation

While we all focus on social distancing and staying at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus, this difficult time has basically given us a license to take time off from shaving. 

Don't tell that to Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, who has seemingly started a new shaving challenge on Instagram with his wife, Nastya (music NSFW). 

As Ovechkin goes for the clean shave with Nastya dancing by his side, the caption translates to him challenging fellow Russian hockey stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin. 

Neither player has considerable facial hair, but credit to Ovechkin finding another way to keep busy during isolation. Even if he's fraternizing with a Penguin. 

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With NHL season paused, a ranking of Capitals' best wins of 2019-20: No. 4

With NHL season paused, a ranking of Capitals' best wins of 2019-20: No. 4

While we wait for the NHL to hopefully resume its season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the 20 best wins of the Capitals' season so far. Mark Zaner, producer for Caps Faceoff Live and Caps Overtime Live, has watched every game. His rankings continue with No. 4, a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 16 that featured a bloodied Alex Ovechkin getting revenge against the Devils and Braden Holtby getting a fancy new hat. 

WHAT HAPPENED 

Ovechkin made his presence felt in the first period. He scored on a blistering one-timer during a 5-on-3 power play to get the Caps on the board first. Then with less than a minute remaining, after Nicklas Backstrom won an offensive zone draw, Ovechkin picked up the loose puck and fired a wrister that Louis Domingue never saw. 

  

Just 16 seconds in the second period, Ovechkin got some help. Lars Eller’s forecheck forced New Jersey into a turnover. Eller and Richard Panik eventually found Carl Hagelin in front of the net for the easy score. Hagelin’s goal came on Cory Schneider, who replaced Domingue at intermission. 

  

Despite being dead last in the Metro Division, the Devils didn’t roll over. Wayne Simmonds scored less than a minute after Hagelin’s goal. Blake Coleman scored shorthanded for his 19th of the season early in the third period to make it 3-2. 

Order was eventually restored. Jakub Vrana took advantage of a bad clearing attempt by Pavel Zacha and snuck one through Schneider. And at the 15:42 mark, the Capitals put the game away for good. Tom Wilson made one of the best passes of the season right to Ovechkin on the doorstep. Washington wins 5-2. 

  

MEMORABLE MOMENTS 

This was Ovechkin’s second hat trick of the season. It looked like it would be a rough night early on for the Captain. On one of his first shifts of the night, Ovechkin took a high stick from Miles Wood that drew blood. Ovi spent most of the period getting stitched up in the dressing room. He returned to the game just in time to score two goals in the final five minutes of the period. Don’t make Ovechkin angry, you won’t like him when he’s angry. 

  

Ilya Samsonov continued a brilliant stretch of games. He made one of the more remarkable saves of his young career. 

  

WHY IT WAS SIGNIFICANT 

Just five days earlier, the Caps hosted New Jersey and lost 5-1. It was arguably their worst game of the season. Washington didn’t take the Devils lightly in this contest and got a much needed two points with the All-Star break looming. 

Ovechkin scored career goals 687, 688 and 689. That put him one behind Mario Lemieux for 10th place on the all-time scoring list. He would jump Super Mario less than 48 hours later. 
 
WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT 

When throwing hats on the ice, fans usually just chuck cheap baseball caps and toques. This is the first time I can remember someone throwing a women’s fedora on the ice. 

  

Braden Holtby pulls off the look well. The whole incident begs the question: who wears a fedora to a hockey game? 

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