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Ovechkin, Laich score as Capitals blow out Bruins

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Ovechkin, Laich score as Capitals blow out Bruins

Post-game analysis of the Capitals’ 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins Thursday night at Verizon Center:

How it happened: Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich scored at even strength, John Carlson blasted home a power-play goal and Braden Holtby rebounded from a shaky game in New York with 28 saves as the Caps beat the Bruins for the fourth straight time, dating back to last season (3-0-0). Karl Alzner finished off the Bruins with an empty netter, seconds after Ovechkin missed the open cage.

What it means: The Caps entered the season with a goal of not losing back-to-back games and so far they’ve delivered, following up each of their three losses with a victory. With a 9-3-0 record and 18 points they moved into a tie with the Rangers (8-2-2) with 18 points in 12 games.

Laich-ing it: Brooks Laich’s net-crashing goal 4:10 into the second period stood up as the game-winner. It was also his first goal since March 31, snapping a string of 16 games without a goal. Laich hit the brakes in front of Tuukka Rask and got a piece of Dmitry Orlov’s slapper from the point. He celebrated the goal without a stick and from the seat of his pants. It was Laich’s first point of the season and Michael Latta joined him on the score sheet with an assist, his first point of the season.

Chasing Sergei: Alex Ovechkin’s team-high seventh goal of the season was the 482nd of his career, moving him within one of tying Sergei Fedorov for the most NHL goals scored by a Russian-born player.   

Bruins solve Holtby: Jimmy Hayes’ power-play goal 12:47 into the first period was the first Bruins goal allowed by Braden Holtby since March 29, 2014, a string of nine periods of shutout hockey.

Let’s make a deal: Twelve scouts representing 10 NHL teams were in attendance Thursday night, including two representatives from the Flyers, Stars and Red Wings and one each from the Hurricanes, Blackhawks, Avalanche, Predators, Penguins, Blues and Lightning. Former Caps enforcer Craig Berube, who is scouting for Team Canada, was also in the house.

Speaking of Team Canada: Like just about everyone, Berube said Braden Holtby should be in the conversation when it comes time to selecting Team Canada’s goalie for the 2016 World Cup, along with Carey Price and Corey Crawford.

Laich climbs past Kono: Brooks Laich played in his 694th game with the Capitals, moving him into 10th on the club’s all-time list, which goes something like this:

1, Calle Johansson 983

2, Peter Bondra 961

3, Kelly Miller 940

4, Dale Hunter 872

5, Michal Pivonka  825

6, Alex Ovechkin 771

7, Mike Gartner 758

8, Rod Langway 726

9, Olie Kolzig 711

10, Brooks Laich 694

What’s next: The Caps will practice at Kettler on Friday before facing Mike Babcock and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday at Verizon Center. The follow with a visit to Detroit on Tuesday and a stop in Philadelphia on Thursday. 

[RELATED: Trotz endorses Ovechkin as Hall of Famer]

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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.”

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