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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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The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.


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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”