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Niskanen: 'I really wanted to pass that puck'


Niskanen: 'I really wanted to pass that puck'

Afterward, it was hard to tell which was more memorable: Matt Niskanen’s incredible coast-to-coast rush and parting of the Orange, Black and White Sea … or the reaction it received on the Capitals’ bench.

“It’s like back to the 70s, Bobby Orr, all those guys,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said of Niskanen’s game-winning goal in the Caps’ 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday at Verizon Center. “… I think the whole building was surprised.”

Asked for his reaction, Capitals coach Barry Trotz grinned and said:

“Holy … 

“It’s a Sunday, I can’t. That’s what all the guys on the bench were thinking, because that’s a lot of what we were hearing.”

Niskanen’s Orr-like goal began near his own goal line and ended in Steve Mason’s goal crease, where he flipped a shot inside the right post for the game-winning goal 5:24 into the final period.

RELATED: Niskanen gives Caps third straight win

Niskanen, who entered the game with two goals on 91 shots, weaved through four different Flyers, each of whom played matador defense on the play.

“I really wanted to pass that puck to someone,” Niskanen said. “Either my vision’s getting worse or I couldn’t see anybody open. 

“There was open ice to skate in the middle and I was able to pick my way through there. Lucky shot, I guess. I wanted onto the puck too long I start to get uncomfortable.  I haven’t scored a goal like that in like 12 years.”

Flyers rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who along with Michael Del Zotto was the last line of defense for the Flyers, said he was surprised at how much room Niskanen was given to operate.

“I think myself and (Del Zotto)  could have done a better play,” he said. “We were kind of flat-footed, and we don't expect the D-man to have that much speed coming at us. I think we could have helped (Steve Mason) a little more. … I didn't expect him to carry it down that low."

Neither did the rest of the Capitals bench, which exploded in cheers, high fives and laughter.

Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said the last time he saw a player do what Niskanen did was a few days earlier when Oilers rookie phenom Connor McDavid went end-to-end for a goal.

“Maybe we can get the 1v1 Niskanen vs. McDavid tomorrow,” Alzner said. “I don’t think that was in (the Flyers’) pre-scout. As soon as he made that first move through the neutral zone it was like, ‘OK, he’s on a mission.’” 

Niskanen, who played a game-high 24:51, also played a key role in the Capitals holding the Flyers scoreless on five power plays, including a 53-second two-man advantage midway through the second period.

“That, to me, was the difference in the game,” Trotz said.

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby helped, stopping the Flyers’ final 12 shots of the game to improve to 25-1-3 in his last 29 decisions and a league-best 33-5-3 overall this season.

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

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Boyd, Jaskin sizzle as the Caps' fourth line continues to stay ahead of the curve

Boyd, Jaskin sizzle as the Caps' fourth line continues to stay ahead of the curve

Fresh off of a third-star recognition, Travis Boyd returned to home ice to score less than eleven minutes into Tuesday night’s game as the Capitals hosted the Detroit Red Wings.

Saturday’s goal, versus Columbus, was the first of Boyd’s career. The fact that his second came not even four days later may seem unusual – but with the Capitals’ fourth line cruising, it’s hardly a surprise.

The fourth line, consisting of Boyd, Nic Dowd, and Dmitrij Jaskin, has been together the past three games since Tom Wilson sustained an upper-body injury and the lineup changed. That version of the fourth line has combined for eight points in three wins. 

Dowd has had the most sustained success with seven points in his past nine games (three goals, four assists) - though not all of that came with Jaskin and Boyd. But together the trio continues to show that it shouldn’t be overlooked with significant contributions towards the team’s scoring.

“I think right now we're just having fun together,” Boyd said after the 6-2 win against the Red Wings. “It's kind of funny, you play games and you start making plays together and all of a sudden, it's kind of like a snowball effect. The more plays you make, the more confidence you get and it just kind of keeps going.”

The fourth line’s newfound confidence – and the fun they’re having with it – is tangible. Jaskin, after chipping past Detroit defenseman Mike Green, hustled to avoid an icing call and then helped feed Dowd, who passed to Boyd for a goal that put Washington ahead 2-0 just 10:50 into the game. 

The play looked effortless – so much so that the Red Wings were frustrated by the end of the first, down 3-0. It wasn’t until the third period that Detroit was finally able to get on the board thanks to a goal by Dylan Larkin that held up after a coach’s challenge for goalie interference.

Larkin spoke to the struggle to counter Washington’s fourth line’s success..

“There’s no bad players in this league,” Larkin said. “Whoever scores, it’s disappointing. But the next shift is the most important. We got penned in our zone a little too much tonight.”

Capitals coach Todd Reirden had high praise for the line’s developing chemistry.

“[There’s] a lot of chemistry,” Reirden said. “They're playing well and it’s great to see them get rewarded, and they could have had a couple more. They play the right way for the most part.”

Though Boyd, Dowd, and Jaskin have been outstanding in the past few games, it isn’t a completely new development, but rather, an improvement on a larger goal.

“It's something talked about in the summer,” Reirden said. “[There’s an] importance of having depth scoring and I think that was something we struggled with in the first 10 games of the year, getting scoring from that bottom six. Now it's been a really big part of our success.“

As the league evolves, requiring more skill and versatility from more players, Reirden remains positive that the Caps are ahead of the curve.

“The days of just having a fourth line guy that would be your tough guy, that's kind of gone away,” Reirden said. “I think where we're headed, [if] you can get offensive production from that fourth line, you become a very difficult team to match up against. That's a luxury as a coach if you can have that type of depth. Credit all goes to how our players have bought in and taken advantage of their opportunities. They've been given them, they've earned and deserved to be in that situation they're in right now.”


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Could this be the best season of Alex Ovechkin’s career?

Could this be the best season of Alex Ovechkin’s career?

The NHL is rapidly becoming a young man’s game. Just look at the most dominant players in the league. Connor McDavid is the best player in the world at 21. Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon sit No. 1 and 2 in points in the league at the ages of 22 and 23 respectively. The Toronto Maple Leafs are taking the league by storm with a pair of 21-year-olds in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner leading the way. Patrik Laine, 20, is one of the top goal scorers in the league and Brayden Point, 22, may be the best player on a loaded Tampa Bay roster.

Sitting above all those players, however, and atop the league in goals is the 33-year-old Alex Ovechkin.

“He is having a great start to the year,” head coach Todd Reirden said Tuesday. “In particular it's been his five-on-five play, converting on his chances and taking advantage of some fortunate breaks that went his way tonight, but he's earning. He's earning it and he's doing things the right way and he's been a great leader for us so far this year. Can't say enough about the year he's having.”

Ovechkin now has a four-goal lead in the goal-scoring race as he scored Nos. 23, 24 and 25 with his 21st career hat trick on Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings.

Ovechkin won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the seventh time last season as the league’s leading goal scorer. He did not reach 25 goals until game No. 41 on Jan. 2 and that’s after he spotted himself seven goals in the first two games of the season. In 2007-08 – the season in which Ovechkin lit the lamp a career-high 65 times – he did not reach 25 goals until game No. 36 on Dec. 22.

Thursday’s game was just Washington’s 30th of the season.

Ovechkin is currently enjoying a 12-game point streak that has seen him compile 19 points during that stretch, the second-longest streak of his career. Of those 19 points, only one has come on the power play.

With 39 points on the season, Ovechkin ranks tied for seventh in the NHL.

Is his current goal-scoring pace sustainable? Perhaps not. For his career, Ovechkin has a shooting percentage of 12.6-percent. For the season, he is shooting at 21.6-percent. But he is also taking fewer shots.

Ovechkin is currently shooting 3.87 shots per game, the second lowest rate of his career. If that holds, it will be only the third time in his career he has averaged fewer than four shots per game in a season.

So for those arguing that Ovechkin’s shooting percentage is bound to decline, there’s also a case to be made that he is also likely to start taking more shots which would help keep his goal-scoring pace up.

But the fact that we are even talking about this is remarkable in and of itself. While most players begin to physically decline in their early 30s, Ovechkin could be putting together the best season of his career at 33. That is absolutely remarkable considering the physical style in which he plays and all the miles he has put in with the Olympics, playoffs and 12 NHL seasons of over 70 games. Excluding the lockout-shortened season, the fewest number of games he has played in a season is 72.

Ovechkin has never missed more than 10 games in a single season. Ever.

So while the pundits argue over whether players like McDavid, Matthews or MacKinnon are the best in the league, don’t forget about the 33-year-old who is outscoring them all and who now also has a Stanley Cup ring to go with his already storied career.