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Preserving the shutout was the 'No. 1 priority' for Caps in win over Tampa

Preserving the shutout was the 'No. 1 priority' for Caps in win over Tampa

The tension was high in the final minutes of Friday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lighting. With just under a minute to play, Lightning forward Tanner Richard won a puck battle in the corner of the Capitals defensive zone and fed Victor Hedman at the point.

Jay Beagle went down to a knee for the block. Hedman faked and tried to step clear of Beagle before firing the wrister. Beagle stayed with him, however, and stuck the right leg out for the critical block to prevent the shot from going on net.

What was the score at that point? It was 4-0 Washington.

While the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt at that point, there was still plenty to play for as far as the Caps were concerned. They wanted to protect the shutout for Braden Holtby.

“I thought it was important to us, “ Barry Trotz said after the game.

RELATED: Carlson's big night power Caps past Lightning

“It's No. 1 priority,” Karl Alzner said. “When we see that we've got a comfortable lead on the scoreboard, we’ve got to lock it down and you saw a huge, huge block by Beags at the end there. That might not go as far outside of this dressing room, but inside it's really really big for us.”

At the start of the game, it looked like it was going to be an easy night for the Caps’ netminder as Washington allowed only two shots on goal in the first period. But the Lightning picked up the offense as the game went along, firing nine shots in the second period and 12 in the third.

Goalies can often find it difficult to stay loose and engaged in a game when they’re not tested, especially a netminder like Holtby who enjoys taking shots.

“Those are tough games when you've got nothing,” Trotz said. “In the first period, I didn't have them for any scoring chances. They really didn't have anything. And so, you're watching the other goaltender play and play and all of a sudden, a team like this is very dangerous.”

Holtby, however, found an interesting method to help him stay in the game, as he enjoyed the two early penalty kills the Caps faced in the first period.

“It's one of the things I've been trying to get better at so I get to feel more and more comfortable every time it happens,” Hotlby said.”It's always nice in those at least there's a couple kills, something that you're feeling like you're in the game. I just focus on every play instead of every shot to kind of get in the game that way.”

It seemed to work. As the Lightning raised their game, so did Holtby, easily turning aside each of the 23 shots he faced for his 26th career shutout. Holtby now has three for the season, already tying his total from last year’s Vezina-winning campaign.

But the shutout does not belong solely to Holtby. For a Capitals team that has struggled to play with a lead or put together a consistent 60-minute performance, maintaining the goose egg on the scoreboard was just as important for the team.

“We've let up a couple late ones in a couple games this year already so it's nice to button down the hatch when we need to and I think that's going to be big,” Carlson said. “We've lost a couple too many leads. It's something that we talked about and executed I think. In the second period they came out with a pretty good push, but in the third period when we really buttoned things down, I think we didn't give up much so it's a positive.”

“It’s big for us,” Alzner said.

Big enough for a player like Beagle to risk injury by stepping in front of a shot by Hedman to preserve a 4-0 lead with less than a minute to go in the game? You better believe it.

“We just wanted to make sure we preserved that,” Trotz said of the shutout. “I thought it was a good statement for a team [in the] last game before a break.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps celebrate Festivus with intermission festivities

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Capitals Prospect Report: Connor McMichael is on pace for a special season

Capitals Prospect Report: Connor McMichael is on pace for a special season

Guys, we need to talk about Connor McMichael.

First off, he had another ridiculous week:

  • On Thursday, Nov. 7 he scored a goal for Team OHL in the Canada-Russia Series in a 4-1 win for the OHL.
  • On Friday, Nov. 8 he scored one goal and three assists in a 4-3 win for London over North Bay. He was named the first star of the game.
  • On Saturday, Nov. 9 he scored one goal and two assists in a 4-2 win for London over Owen Sound. He was again named the first star of the game.
  • On Monday, Nov. 11 he scored a goal in the OHL's second game in the Canada-Russia Series, this time in a losing effort to Russia.

What we really need to talk about is how absurdly McMichael is dominating the OHL. He currently leads the league in points with 41. Arthur Kaliyev and Quinton Byfield are right behind him at 39 points, but both players have played in 21 games. McMichael has played in just 16. Of those 16 games, he has been held off the scoresheet in only one of them. He has registered 19 goals and 22 assists. In 2006-07, Patrick Kane recorded an incredible 62-goal, 145-point season. Through the first 16 games of that season, per The London Free Press, Kane had scored five fewer goals and had seven fewer points.

That's right, McMichael has compiled 41 points in just 16 games. That is a rate of 2.56 points per game. According to McKeen Hockey, that is the second-highest rate of points per game in the OHL among U19 players of all-time, second only to Eric Lindros.

It is still early in the season and that is one heck of a pace he's producing at, but we could be looking at a very special season for him.  That of course begs the question, just how good could this guy be in the NHL?

Other prospect notes

  • Aliaksei Protas sits tied for the WHL lead in points with 30. Earlier in the week he was in sole possession of the league lead meaning that Caps prospects were simultaneously leading both the OHL and WHL in points.
  • Riley Sutter was officially reassigned to Hershey over the week. Because he was injured before the season, he was still technically with the Caps on non-roster season-opening injured reserve. He had been sent to Hershey several weeks ago along with Kody Clark to continue training there, but could not officially be sent to the AHL until he was medically cleared.
  • Nova Caps spoke with Martin Fehervary about his first season in North America. “The hockey in Sweden compared to North America, the style is very similar," he said. "It’s fast hockey, they skate really well so its fast hockey. It’s kind of the same, I would say here it’s a little bit faster but the adjustment was kind of easy so far.” You can read the full article here.
  • Pheonix Copley accomplished a rare feat on Wednesday as he recorded a shutout in a loss. Hershey lost 1-0 in a shootout to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Copley saved all 29 shots he faced in the game to record the shutout, but the Bears ultimately lost in the shootout so he collected the "L" as well.
  • Mitchell Gibson made his collegiate debut on Friday for Harvard. He started against Princeton and stopped all 31 shots he faced for the shutout win. He was given the start again on the following day against Quinnipiac and again had a strong showing with 32 saves on 34 shots in the 7-2 win.
  • Mike Sgarbossa had one of the highlights of the week with his shootout goal against Lehigh Valley.


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Todd Reirden brings champs in locker room to keep Capitals motivated

Todd Reirden brings champs in locker room to keep Capitals motivated

They say D.C. is the new title town, and Washington's head coach Todd Reirden is looking to capitalize on that momentum by keeping that energy around his team the best way he knows how: hearing straight from the champs themselves.

On the Junkies, Reirden recounted bringing in Mystics' star forward Elena Delle Donne and Nationals' outfielder Adam Eaton, saying he invited them to remind the 2018 Stanley Cup champions "what it feels like [to win], have people that win championships and especially fellow athletes that are right in the D.C. area."

"I think that's something that kind of got the fire burning a little bit, and it has been burning, to be 100% truthful, since we lost last year," Reirden said.

The Capitals lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in a seven-game first round of Stanley Cup Playoffs that ended in double-overtime.

Washington sits atop the National Hockey League, leading everyone by at least five points -- Washington has 32 points through 20 games, while the second-place Islanders have 27 points through 17 games.