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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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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now


Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”


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NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.


With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?