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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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The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

Alex Ovechkin had two goals, the puck on his stick and an empty-net yawning. The Caps held a 4-2 lead on Monday against the Vancouver Canucks late in the third period and the win looked all but secured. The only thing still up for grabs was the exclamation point empty-net goal.

Ovechkin took the puck in the defensive zone and weaved his way through the neutral zone. Once he hit center ice, there was only one player between him and the net. The hat trick looked all but certain…until he passed the puck away.

He easily could have taken the puck himself and fired it into the empty yet, but instead he chose to pass it off to T.J. Oshie on the wing.

Oshie delayed, but with the trailing Vancouver players skating into the passing lane, there was no way for Oshie to try to pass it back to Ovechkin and he very reluctantly shot the puck into the net.

When the players returned to the bench, the disappointment on Oshie’s face was clear to see. He wanted Ovechkin to get the hat trick, but Ovechkin wasn’t having it.

After the game, head coach Todd Reirden praised Ovechkin for his leadership.

“He could have easily got in the red and tried to score himself and it wasn’t even a thought,” Reirden said. “He passed right to Osh and Osh couldn’t go back to him and that’s the way it worked out. It doesn’t bother him one bit and I think that’s where you see a different player than maybe you saw three or four years ago that is not focused on individual stuff. He’s doing the right thing and he feels if you do the right thing for long enough, you’re going to get rewarded.

“We were benefactors of that last season with being able to win out at the end. He’s really got a lot of buy-in right now for doing the right thing. I think his leadership is really in the last probably year, year and a half has really gone to a new level.”
 
Reirden saw leadership on the play. Oshie saw disappointment.
 
Ovechkin offered his own explanation for giving up the shot as he said, “Save it for next time.”

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Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom can so often be overlooked thanks to his superstar teammates. But on a night in which Alex Ovechkin scored two goals and four points and John Carlson had a goal and three points, Backstrom was the man of the hour on Monday in Vancouver.

With his three assists on the night, Backstrom tallied assists No. 599, 600 and 601 of his career. He is just the 87th player in the history of the NHL to reach the 600-assist mark.

“It means that I’ve been playing in this league a long time I think now,” Backstrom told NBC Sports Washington’s Alan May after the game. “It's a nice milestone, of course, but we’re not going to stop here. We’re just going to keep going.”

Very fittingly, Backstrom’s 600th assist came on a power play goal to Ovechkin. Per NHL Stats, 235 of Backstrom’s 601 assists have been to Ovechkin. T.J. Oshie comes in at a very, very distant second as Backstrom has set up the veteran winger 49 times.

Ovechkin and Backstrom’s careers will be forever linked given the success they have had together in Washington. While that has caused many to overlook the soft-spoken Swede, it is foolish to continue to underrate him and his ability.

Backstrom is an absolute superstar who just so happens to play on the same team as one of the best players in the world and one of the biggest personalities in the sport.

But make no mistake, Backstrom is an elite talent in his own right.

Backstrom is now the first player from the 2006 draft class to reach 600 assists. The next closest is Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux with 471.

The level of success Backstrom has managed to find while in the league has been surprising even to him.

“I wasn’t really sure what I expected out of myself,” he said. “I was just trying to enjoy it. Luckily this organization believed in me and played me a lot after a couple games there and then it just took off. It’s been going fast, but I’ve had so much fun.”

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