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Prospect Report: Vitek Vanecek makes ECHL All-Rookie team

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Prospect Report: Vitek Vanecek makes ECHL All-Rookie team

Hershey update: 39-19-5-7, 1st in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-1-1-0

The Bears are officially playoff bound! Hershey needed just one point over the weekend and punched their postseason ticket in an overtime loss to Providence on Saturday. They now have a three-point cushion over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the division lead.

It was a good weekend for the usual suspects. Nathan Walker and Riley Barber each recorded two points while Jakub Vrana scored two goals and an assist.

Hershey has six games remaining in the regular season to try to hold onto first place, including three against the Penguins.

RELATED: Friday Six-Pack: Time to panic?

Other prospect notes:

Shane Gersich is one win away from an NCAA Championship as North Dakota defeated Denver 4-2 in the Frozen Four. Fellow Caps prospect Zach Sanford will not be joining him, however. Boston College narrowly fell to top-ranked Quinnipiac on Thursday. Both Gersich and Sanford were held to zero points in the semifinals.

You can watch the championship game between North Dakota and Quinnipiac on Sat. April 9 at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.

Tim McGauley's Brandon Wheat Kings fended off the upset bid of Edmonton and advanced to the second round of the WHL playoffs. Brandon won the series in six games with McGauley tallying five assists. Regina also advanced in the WHL playoffs with a five-game series win over Lethbridge. Prospects Colby Williams and Connor Hobbs now advance to play Reed Deer.

Goalie Vitek Vanecek continued his impressive season in the ECHL with his fourth shutout of the season, a 24 save performance over Atlanta. With the win, South Carolina qualified for the Kelly Cup playoffs.

Vanecek was named the Warrior Hockey ECHL Goaltender of the Month for March and was also named to the ECHL All-Rookie Team. For the season, Vanecek has a record of 18-7-5-1 with four shutouts, a .917 save percentage and a 2.03 GAA. That's the second-highest GAA in the ECHL.

Vanecek's shutout came on the heels of a poor performance in which he gave up five goals on 17 shots in on overtime loss to Orlando. He has shown a clear ability to bounce back this season and is now playing well despite a very tough stretch midseason.

Check out the highlights of both games here:

Now lets be fair. These highlights primarily feature Vanecek getting scored on. He does not look good in the first game. Because it is the ECHL, you're not going to be able to find a lot of good highlights on Vanecek. Most of the highlights are of him getting scored on and not him making great saves.

At the end of the day, his stats say he is having a great season and the accolades back that up...but boy those goals he allowed against Orlando look soft.

The playoffs will be critical for Vanecek considering the goalie situation in Hershey next season. Justin Peters is on the final year of his contract and is unlikely to return while Dan Ellis is on a one-year deal and is 35. If Vanecek can impress in the postseason, he will push to make the jump to the AHL next season.

When you're watching those highlights, be sure to check out Caleb Herbert. Herbert is making the most of his trip to the ECHL and scored three goals and two assists over the week. He also may have scored the goal of the year in the overtime loss to Orlando.

MORE HOCKEY: Penguins fans take over Smithsonian steps after OT win over Caps

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the game. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.

“Sickening.”

Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”

 

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5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

The Caps gave up a 2-1 and 3-2 lead, but ultimately came away victorious on Wednesday in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers thanks to an overtime goal from Matt Niskanen.

Here are five reasons why the Caps won.

1. Djoos saves a goal

With the Caps already trailing 1-0 in the first period, they were about an inch away from going down by two. Luckily, Christian Djoos was there to make the save.

Yes, Djoos, not Braden Holtby.

A diving Jesper Fast got to a loose puck before any of the Caps defenders and beat Holtby with the shot. Djoos, however, was there to sweep the puck off the goal line and out, saving a goal.

That play turned out to be a two-goal swing as less than two minutes later, the Caps scored to tie the game at 1.

2. Carlson off the faceoff

The Caps emphasized the importance of the faceoff this week and worked on it specifically in practice on Tuesday. That practice turned out to be very prescient as Washington’s first goal of the night came right off the faceoff.

Nicklas Backstrom beat Ryan Spooner on the draw cleanly in the offensive zone, feeding the puck back to John Carlson. With the players all bunched up off the draw, Carlson benefitted from Brady Skjei standing right in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Carlson teed up the slap shot and beat Lundqvist who never saw the puck.

Of the five combined goals scored in the game, three were directly set up off a faceoff.

3. Hand-eye coordination

With the Caps on the power play, Fast tipped a pass meant for Carlson that looked like it was headed out of the offensive zone. Carlson reacted to the puck then stretched the stick and somehow managed to control the bouncing puck and keep it in the zone.

Fast charged Carlson at the blue line so he chipped the puck to Ovechkin in the office. Ovechkin managed to hit the puck just as it hit the ice and somehow beat Lundqvist with the shot.

Ovechkin was by the boards at the very edge of the circle. It was an amazing shot and it was set up by the great hustle play from Carlson. Both showed tremendous hand-eye coordination to control that puck.

4. Braden Holtby

Lundqvist entered this game with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage, but he was outplayed by his counterpart from Washington.

Holtby had himself a night. He was particularly strong down low with the pads as he made a number of key pad saves throughout the game, particularly in the second period when he recorded 17 saves including a shorthanded breakaway save on Kevin Hayes as time expired.

Of the three goals Holtby allowed, the first he made a great save on Chris Kreider who looked like he had an empty net to shoot at. Mike Zibanejad would score on the rebound. The second goal came as a shot deflected off Devante Smith-Pelly and went right to Jimmy Vesey for an easy tap-in. The third was a deflection goal from Kreider to redirect a shot that was going wide.

Can’t blame Holtby for those.

5. Working from the office

The Caps had three power play opportunities on the night. They scored on two of them and those two goals looked pretty darn similar.

There was the one described above in which a hustle play by Carlson at the point kept the puck alive and he fed to Ovechkin in the office. The second goal came with Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office.

Those two goals give Ovechkin 232 power play goals for his career, tying him with Dino Ciccarelli for ninth on the NHL’s all-time list.

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