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Oshie thrilled to be playing with Ovechkin


Oshie thrilled to be playing with Ovechkin

Capitals fans won’t have to wait very long to see what T.J. Oshie can do on a line with Alex Ovechkin.

The two will flank 23-year-old center Evgeny Kuznetsov when the Caps open their seven-game preseason schedule against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at Verizon Center (7 p.m., CSN).

“You know he’s a dynamic player,” Oshie said of Ovechkin, who has led the NHL in goals in five of his 10 NHL seasons, including the past three. “But when you play with him and see his shot, I just shake my head every time he puts one in the back of the net. He can score from spots where most guys can’t. It’s pretty amazing.”

Oshie, 28, will be looking to build on a 19-goal, 55-point season in St. Louis, where he has played his entire seven-year career. If he plays the entire season on a line with Ovechkin, there’s a good chance those offensive totals will increase.

“I actually tried to use his stick the other day and I can’t use it,” said Oshie, who like Ovechkin is a right-handed shooter. “I shouldn’t have even touched it.”

RELATED: Caps show their top line at morning skate

Ovechkin, 30, is coming off a 53-goal season and said he’s anxious to play with Oshie and Kuznetsov, who is coming off an 11-goal, 26-assist season. Kuznetsov is projected as the Caps’ second-line center but will be filling in on the top line until Nicklas Backstrom returns from offseason hip surgery.  

“I think the coaches right now are trying to figure out if Backy is not going to play, what are the lines going to be out there,” Ovechkin said. “For Kuzy, it’s a good opportunity to show up and be one of the leaders of the team and one of the best players in the league.”

Kuznetsov excelled in the playoffs last season with five goals and two assists in 14 games. He said he’s been dreaming of playing alongside Ovechkin since the day the Capitals drafted him 26th overall in 2010, an NHL draft that produced Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Taresenko, Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin.

“Everybody wants to play with players like Ovi and Oshie,” Kuznetsov said. “You have to want this when you come here.  Ovi is a good guy on the ice and as a person and Oshie, I see him play in Olympic Games and St. Louis and he’s a great, great, player.”

Oshie said he’s been impressed with Kuznetsov’s poise with the puck and his defensive awareness, adding, “The kid’s got a very bright future ahead of him.”

Capitals coach Barry Trotz agreed, comparing Kuznetsov’s on-ice awareness and vision to Backstrom’s.

“His confidence level at the end of (last) season was very high,” Trotz said. “He’s got a strut that maybe he didn’t have last year. Some guys might say, ‘Ovi’s the guy.’ But he’s not afraid to be the guy. Maybe he’ll push the older guys to raise their level of play.”

Trotz said he’s not certain he will stick with the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Oshie line throughout tonight’s game, saying he could move Derek Roy between Ovechkin and Oshie, depending on how the game goes. But for now he wants Oshie to feel comfortable on the ice.

“I’d like to see if there’s any chemistry,” Trotz said. “I just want Oshie to feel comfortable. I don’t know if he’ll stay on that line. We’re throwing units together that might be on the power play together.”

Goalie update: Trotz said Braden Holtby will get the start tonight and will be replaced by backup Dan Ellis, who is expected to begin the season in Hershey. That means Ellis, a strong puck handler, will participate in the post-game, sudden death 3-on-3 overtime. “We wouldn’t put Braden in there cold,” Trotz said.

MORE CAPITALS: Oshie, Ovi expected to make preseason debuts

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Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Friday’s loss to the Florida Panthers was disappointing in a number of ways for the Capitals, but some good may yet come from it with the emergence of the third line.

A poor performance in the opening frame led to Todd Reirden switching up his lines to start the second. No change had a greater effect than the addition of Jakub Vrana to the third line in place of Andre Burakovsky to play with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly.

The move yielded instant results.

Connolly scored his first goal of the season less than two minutes into the period and added an assist. Vrana also recorded a goal and an assist, while Eller had a three-point night with three assists.

“It was just to make something happen,” Eller said, “Not that [Burakovsky] did something wrong, but just to make something happen and it worked. We kept riding the wave from there on and got two in that period. That seemed to work so that was positive.”

Vrana, Eller and Connolly were three players who had been playing well for the Caps, but were just not producing.

Heading into Friday’s game, Vrana and Eller both had only one point apiece on the season. Connolly had four, but three of those points came earlier in the season while he was skating on the team’s top line.

Friday was his first goal of the season.

“It’s good to get a goal,” Connolly said. “Getting some assists and all that and being a factor on some goals, but it’s nice to see one go in. I’ve had a lot of chances to start the year, thought I’ve been playing well. Lot more shots, lot more chances than I had last year and throughout the last two seasons per game. So I feel I’m ahead of the game right now in terms of that.”

Depth scoring has been a major weakness for the Caps so far in the early season. Washington had gotten only two bottom six goals prior to Friday’s game, and both came in the team’s blowout win over Boston in the opener.

They needed a spark to get offense from the bottom six, and they just may have found it on Friday with that third line combination.

Don’t be surprised to see that Vrana-Eller-Connolly trio stick together in Vancouver for the Caps’ next game against the Canucks.


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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”