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Projecting Caps who could play in the World Cup

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Projecting Caps who could play in the World Cup

The NHL’s alternative to the Olympics begins next year with the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Team USA named Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi as their general manager which means it’s time to start thinking about who may make the rosters.

USA Today published a projection of USA’s lineup on Thursday that included both Brooks Orpik and John Carlson. While most CSN readers will be cheering on USA, ultimately we know your hearts are with the Caps so let’s have a look at which Caps players could be selected to play for their country next summer.

Team USA

T.J. Oshie

A notable snub from USA Today’s list. Could USA really leave the lone bright spot from Sochi out of the World Cup? As loaded as the team may be on the right side (think Phil Kessel, Kyle Okposo, Patrick Kane), I believe Oshie will thrive playing next to Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. He may not be a top line player for the U.S., but I believe he will play his way onto the team with a strong campaign this season.

My guess: He’s in

John Carlson

Carlson was selected to USA’s Olympic team in 2014 and played well with one goal and one assist. After an impressive 2014-15 season, there’s no reason to think Carlson would not be included on the World Cup roster especially when you consider his role is likely to increase on the power play for the Caps with the departure of Mike Green.

My guess: He’s in

Matt Niskanen

I love what he brings to the Caps. The combination of Niskanen and Karl Alzner is a phenomenal second pair. I don’t think it’s enough to make the squad. He’s good enough to garner consideration, but I don’t give him much of a shot.

My guess: He’s out

Brooks Orpik

He got a nod from USA Today, but I’m not so sure. He played well in his first season with the Caps and if he repeats that this year, he certainly deserves consideration, but there’s also a question of if he will want to play. At this point, we don’t know how the NHL players are going to react to the World Cup. Will they embrace it as a major international tournament or will they reject it as a gimmick? As the tournament will be held in September, just before the NHL regular season, it is not crazy to think a player who will turn 36 in 2016 may want to rest especially if the Caps make a lengthy playoff run.

My guess: He’s out

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Team Canada

Karl Alzner

The problem for Alzner is not that he’s not a great defenseman. He is. The problem is that he happens to be from Canada, a nation with the best collection of hockey players in the world. It’s hard to crack a roster that will include players like Duncan Keith, Shea Webber and P.K. Subban.

My guess: He’s out

Braden Holtby

Despite how little attention Holtby gets for his phenomenal play, another season like he had last year will make him impossible to ignore. I don’t see him starting, that job is Carey Price’s to lose at this point, but Mike Smith was Canada’s third goalie in Sochi. You can’t tell me Smith has done more since then to warrant a spot over Holtby. There’s going to be a lot of competition, but Holtby has just been playing too well.

My guess: He’s in

Team Russia

Evgeny Kuznetsov

This one is a bit hard to predict given we don’t know how many players from the KHL will play. The last thing the KHL will want to do is add legitimacy to an NHL event by allowing all of their players to play in a tournament most of their fans won’t be able to watch live because of the time difference. Kuznetsov broke out in the playoffs last season and if he continues that level of play, he should make the roster regardless. If KHL players turn their noses up at the tournament, then there won't be nearly as much competition making Kuznetsov a shoo-in.

My guess: He’s in

Alex Ovechkin

There’s no point in even discussing this one.

My guess: He’s in

Team Sweden

Nicklas Backstrom

See above explanation for Alex Ovechkin. Just stay away from the allergy medication.

My guess: He’s in

Andre Burakovsky

Burakovsky was born in Austria, but has played for team Sweden in international competitions so this is where he would be considered. Though talented, it will be tough for Burakovsky to crack a roster as loaded as Sweden’s. If the tournament was in 2017, I think he would have a real shot, but I don’t think he will have shown enough at the NHL level to be included in 2016.

My guess: He’s out

Marcus Johansson

Johansson’s inclusion on the roster for Sochi came as a bit of a surprise given how much Swedish talent there is in the NHL. With 20 goals and 27 assists last season, I think he definitely would garner consideration for 2016, but will he have similar numbers next season? This may depend on where he plays. If Johansson plays most of the season on the second line, perhaps he can play his way onto the roster, but his top line days are behind him thanks to Oshie and Justin Williams. Despite making the roster in Sochi, I think this will be an uphill climb.

My guess: He’s out

Team Czech Republic

Jakub Vrana

Vrana had five goals and four assists in the 2015 World IIHF Junior’s tournament. He has all the makings of a future star for the Czech Republic. The problem is he will spend most if not all of the 2015-16 season in the AHL. Will the Czech team really give a roster spot to a player with little or no NHL experience?

My guess: He’s out

Team Under-23 North America

Madison Bowey

Bowey helped lead Canada’s junior team to gold in 2015, which you think would make him a shoo-in for this bizarre under-23 roster. When you begin to look around the NHL, however, it’s shocking how many players who are under 23 have already cracked the big leagues. This is not a negative reflection on Bowey who looks fantastic and has a long NHL career in front of him, but there are plenty of young defensemen in the league who this team will go for before they take the inexperienced Bowey.

My guess: He’s out

MORE CAPITALS: Who will drop the gloves for the Caps this season?

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Could this be the best season of Alex Ovechkin’s career?

Could this be the best season of Alex Ovechkin’s career?

The NHL is rapidly becoming a young man’s game. Just look at the most dominant players in the league. Connor McDavid is the best player in the world at 21. Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon sit No. 1 and 2 in points in the league at the ages of 22 and 23 respectively. The Toronto Maple Leafs are taking the league by storm with a pair of 21-year-olds in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner leading the way. Patrik Laine, 20, is one of the top goal scorers in the league and Brayden Point, 22, may be the best player on a loaded Tampa Bay roster.

Sitting above all those players, however, and atop the league in goals is the 33-year-old Alex Ovechkin.

“He is having a great start to the year,” head coach Todd Reirden said Tuesday. “In particular it's been his five-on-five play, converting on his chances and taking advantage of some fortunate breaks that went his way tonight, but he's earning. He's earning it and he's doing things the right way and he's been a great leader for us so far this year. Can't say enough about the year he's having.”

Ovechkin now has a four-goal lead in the goal-scoring race as he scored Nos. 23, 24 and 25 with his 21st career hat trick on Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings.

Ovechkin won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the seventh time last season as the league’s leading goal scorer. He did not reach 25 goals until game No. 41 on Jan. 2 and that’s after he spotted himself seven goals in the first two games of the season. In 2007-08 – the season in which Ovechkin lit the lamp a career-high 65 times – he did not reach 25 goals until game No. 36 on Dec. 22.

Thursday’s game was just Washington’s 30th of the season.

Ovechkin is currently enjoying a 12-game point streak that has seen him compile 19 points during that stretch, the second-longest streak of his career. Of those 19 points, only one has come on the power play.

With 39 points on the season, Ovechkin ranks tied for seventh in the NHL.

Is his current goal-scoring pace sustainable? Perhaps not. For his career, Ovechkin has a shooting percentage of 12.6-percent. For the season, he is shooting at 21.6-percent. But he is also taking fewer shots.

Ovechkin is currently shooting 3.87 shots per game, the second lowest rate of his career. If that holds, it will be only the third time in his career he has averaged fewer than four shots per game in a season.

So for those arguing that Ovechkin’s shooting percentage is bound to decline, there’s also a case to be made that he is also likely to start taking more shots which would help keep his goal-scoring pace up.

But the fact that we are even talking about this is remarkable in and of itself. While most players begin to physically decline in their early 30s, Ovechkin could be putting together the best season of his career at 33. That is absolutely remarkable considering the physical style in which he plays and all the miles he has put in with the Olympics, playoffs and 12 NHL seasons of over 70 games. Excluding the lockout-shortened season, the fewest number of games he has played in a season is 72.

Ovechkin has never missed more than 10 games in a single season. Ever.

So while the pundits argue over whether players like McDavid, Matthews or MacKinnon are the best in the league, don’t forget about the 33-year-old who is outscoring them all and who now also has a Stanley Cup ring to go with his already storied career.

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Ovechkin’s hat trick keeps Capitals rolling in 6-2 win against Red Wings

Ovechkin’s hat trick keeps Capitals rolling in 6-2 win against Red Wings

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- The stars came out for the Capitals on Tuesday night. 

There was Alex Ovechkin continuing his marvelous age-33 season with a hat trick, his first since Nov. 25, 2017. Nicklas Backstrom had four more assists. That’s his second four-point game in six games. T.J. Oshie returned from an 11-game absence (concussion) and scored on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov set up two goals. 

Anything else?

It all added up to a 6-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings and Washington is rolling. With that kind of firepower why wouldn’t it be? The Caps have won 11 of their past 14 games. At 18-9-3 and with 39 points, Washington is in first place in the Metropolitan Division and has a chance to build on that lead with five of its final eight games of 2018 at home. 

It didn’t hurt that the second-place Columbus Blue Jackets coughed up a 2-1 lead to the Vancouver Canucks at home Tuesday, allowing two goals in the final five minutes to lose 3-2 in regulation. The Blue Jackets are stuck on 34 points and suddenly the Capitals have a five-point lead in the division. 

“The season is all progress,” Backstrom said. “You keep building your team getting all the roles intact. Lately the last couple of games we’ve been playing good hockey, we’ve been playing with a lot of speed, we’ve been playing quick. That’s when we’re hard to play against, I think.”

The recent hot streak starts with Ovechkin, in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career. It was his 126th multi-goal game and he passed former Washington forward Dino Ciccarelli (125) for the 11th-most in league history.

“I’ll take it,” Ovechkin said. “Couple lucky goals.”

Ovechkin has points in 12 straight games (13 goals, six assists) and 18 of his 19 points during that stretch have come at even strength – with admittedly a few empty-net tallies tossed in for good measure. He extended his NHL lead to 25 goals – four ahead of Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine and Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point (21).  

If Ovechkin records a point against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday he will tie his career best of 13 games set between Dec. 30, 2006 and Feb. 1, 2007. That was the year before this incredible run of sustained success began with Washington’s first playoff berth in the Ovechkin era. They didn’t even wear red uniforms back then. Ovechkin ranks eighth in points (38) in the NHL through 30 games. 

“I don’t watch much hockey so I can only go off the years I’ve been here but he’s playing outstanding,” Oshie said.

“At that level that he got himself to last year right at the start of the year … he’s really just kept building off that. It’s fun being on this side of that when Big O is going like that. It’s a privilege to play with him out there and you think maybe there are not other ways he can kind of amaze you and wow you but there was another example tonight.”

Last year, he didn’t get to 39 points until Dec. 30, which was game No. 40. He had three assists that night against the New Jersey Devils and ended that game at 41 points. He didn’t get to 25 goals until a Jan. 2 game against Carolina, which was Game No. 41. Ovechkin finished with 87 points (49 goals, 38 assists) and is well ahead of that pace and halfway to his magic number of 50.   

“The age he's at to still continue to not only want to get better, but to be able to,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said.

“After just the way he's played the game with such a physical presence and the energy he has and the size he is, it's not easy. He's been great in our room, the leadership is really stepped up for me, the best I've seen him lead in our room during the regular season. And then his overall play is following right along with it. I know some other years statistically have been better, but for me it's his best two-way hockey that he's played.” 

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