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Niskanen gives Caps third straight win

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Niskanen gives Caps third straight win

Post-game analysis of the Capitals’ 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at Verizon Center:

How it happened: Matt Niskanen morphed into Bobby Orr, going ended to end and weaving through four Flyers en route to beating goaltender Steve Mason and a tie score 5:54 into the third period. Niskanen entered the game with just two goals on 91 shots. The Caps fell behind early on a goal by Michael Del Zotto but grabbed a 2-1 lead on goals by Alex Ovechkin, his 30th, and Dmitry Orlov, his fifth. The Flyers pulled even at 2-2 just 51 seconds into the third period when Pierre-Edouard Bellemare beat T.J. Oshie cleanly on a faceoff and defenseman Nick  Schultz hammered a shot past a screened Braden Holtby.

What it means: The Caps increased their Metro Division lead over the Rangers to 17 points and have won three straight following a two-game losing streak.  The Flyers remained four points out of a playoff spot and fell to 1-2-0 against the Caps this season. The Caps also improved to 16-8-2 on Super Bowl Sundays, 16-7-1 at home. 

Chasing history: Alex Ovechkin’s second-period goal, which came on a net-front deflection of a Karl Alzner point shot, gave him 30 goals for the 11th time in his NHL career. Only two other NHL players have begun their careers with 11 straight seasons of 30 or more goals. Mike Gartner did it 15 straight seasons with four different teams. Wayne Gretzky did it in his first 13 NHL seasons. Ovechkin also moved within two goals of Chicago’s Patrick Kane in pursuit of his sixth Rocket Richard trophy.

Chasing Marty: Caps goaltender Braden Holtby stopped 33 shots to improve his NHL-best record to 33-5-3. He also improved to 3-0-0 on the back end of back-to-back games, allowing two goals in each of those three victories. Holtby is three wins ahead of the pace Marty Brodeur was on when he broke Bernie Parent’s NHL record with 48 wins in 2006-07. Holtby is 25-1-3 in his last 29 decisions and is on pace for 52 wins.    

Chasing 100: Karl Alzner and Evgeny Kuznetsov each picked up their 99th career point with assists. Alzner’s came in his 478th career game. Kuznetsov’s came in his 148th game. So who would get to keep the puck if one passes to the other for their 100th NHL points?

Power outage: The Caps went 0-for-2 on the power play and are now in an 0-for-17 funk over their past five games. The last time they went six games without a power-play goal was in the second round of last year’s playoff loss to the Rangers.  

Injury update: Brooks Orpik (lower body) missed his 37th straight game and Marcus Johansson missed his fourth straight. Both are expected to join the Caps on their three-game road trip next week. Jay Beagle is hoping to return to practice when the Caps return to Kettler on Feb. 15.  

What’s next: The Caps will use Monday as a travel day to Nashville, where they’ll begin a three-game road trip Tuesday night against the Predators. They’ll follow with a practice in Minnesota on Wednesday, a game against the Wild on Thursday and a visit to Dallas on Saturday. They return home to face the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 16.      

MORE CAPITALS: Holtby: 'The only stat I care about is wins'

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This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

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Twitter/@PeachOmania

This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

Since the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time over one month ago, Caps fans, (and players), have rushed to their local tattoo parlor to get some ink commemorating the win.

We've seen the classic Capitals logo with the Stanley Cup, but nothing that comes close to the masterpiece that is Shane Peacher's tattoo.

Peacher tweeted to Joe B and Courtney Laughlin the finished tat: a work of art featuring Alex Ovechkin kissing the Stanley Cup for the first time as it's hoisted over his head.

Joe B replied making sure Shane had enough room on his other tricep for next year.

Shane replied that he's thinking of Evgeny Kuznetsov's iconic celebration that has since been dubbed the "birdman."

Shane got his Caps tattoo at the Helix Tattoo Lodge in Rising Sun, Maryland, by tattoo artist, Justin Holcombe.

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Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?

Tarik: When a player has a career year and it coincides with the final year of his contract, the reaction from some fans and media is often a sarcastic, ‘Well, of course he did.’

And I’m sure there are some folks who wonder about Carlson’s breakout season and whether there was a connection between the uptick in his production and the potential of an enormous payday.

Indeed, the 28-year-old established highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68) and ice time (24:47). He was outstanding in the postseason, too, amassing five goals and 15 assists while playing solidly in his own end to help lead the Caps to their first championship.

The financial reward came a couple of weeks later when he signed an eight-year, $64 million contract to remain in Washington.

Which brings us to today’s question.

It’s obviously impossible to say for sure what’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had another big season. Why? A few reasons:

  • As good as he was, last year wasn’t a total outlier, either. Carlson racked up 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 2014-15, which was tied for fifth best among blue liners that year.
  • He was at his best last season skating with trade deadline addition Michal Kempny. Kempny, of course, also re-upped, agreeing to a four-year extension. So, in theory, Carlson should be able to pick up where he left off.
  • Carlson has credited Todd Reirden with helping him take his game to new heights. Well, Reirden is now the guy in charge of the whole operation. How could that not help?
  • A major reason Carlson puts up so many points is his role on the power play. And that unit, which really hit its stride in the postseason (29.3-percent), returns all five skaters.
  • Carlson has also been pretty durable, which is critical to being productive. In fact, last season he skated in all of the Caps’ games for the sixth time in eight full-time seasons.

So, yeah, it’s all setting up nicely for Carlson to have a strong 2018-19.

To me, the only unknown is whether he’ll have the same hunger and determination now that he’s got long-term security and that previously elusive championship ring.

Again, that’s impossible to predict. But I can tell you this: Over the course of two decades in this business, I’ve covered lots of players who inked life-changing contracts. With a few of them, I had immediate concerns.

I have no such reservations about Carlson's ability to play up to his new deal, particularly in the first several seasons of it.

JJ: There's nothing wrong with a player being motivated by a new deal, but I am always wary when players have career years on the last year of their contract.

The issue is whether or not a player can continue to play at the level they showed when a new contract is no longer a motivating factor. After signing a new deal for eight years and $64 million, Carlson won't have to think about money or contracts for a long time.

When it comes to motivation, a lot of the questions surrounding the Capitals this year will depend on how they react to winning the Cup. Of course everyone wants to repeat, but psychologically will they come into camp more motivated than ever to defend their title or will they be satisfied with finally winning it all?

For Carlson, there are several reasons to be hopeful. Tarik went over a number of those reasons above, but the two biggest for me are Michal Kempny and Todd Reirden.

This season, Carlson will have Kempny as his partner to start, rather than a cycle of practically every left-handed defenseman on the ice depending on the situation. Second, what Mitch Korn is to goalies, Reirden is to defensemen. With him as the head coach, I believe the ceiling for Carlson will only continue to climb.

Let's also go beyond the numbers. Matt Niskanen suffered an injury early last season that forced Carlson into a primary role on both ends of the ice. He was playing nearly 30 minutes a night and, with two rookies on the blue line who Barry Trotz did everything he could to shelter, those were very hard minutes. Yet, Carlson excelled. The offensive upside was always there, but the way he played defensively was a revelation.

While Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen will remain a solid pair for the Caps, I believe Carlson will be the guy heading into the season which will mean more minutes and more responsibility.

Plus, despite what he meant to the team's defense and despite leading all defensemen in points with 68, Carlson was not selected to participate in the All-Star Game, he was not one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy and he was not among the four defensemen named to the end of season All-Star team. His incredible season earned him no recognition at all other than his new contract. A $64 million contract is a heck of a consolation prize, but his season deserved more recognition than that.

You don't often see a player of his caliber enter a season with a chip on his shoulder, but Carlson should have a fairly sizable one.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?